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Decontamination (From Medical Aspects of Chemical and Biological Warfare, P 351-360, 1997, Frederick R. Sidell, M.D., Ernest T. Takafuji, M.D., eds, et al., -- See NCJ-190599)

NCJ Number
Charles G. Hurst M.D.
Date Published
10 pages

This document focuses on the decontamination procedure after chemical or biological agent exposure.


Decontamination is defined as the reduction or removal of chemical (or biological) agents so they are no longer hazards. Agents may be removed by physical means or be neutralized chemically (detoxification). Decontamination of skin is the primary concern, but decontamination of eyes and wounds must also be done when necessary. Personal decontamination refers to decontamination of oneself. Casualty decontamination refers to the decontamination of casualties. Personnel decontamination usually refers to decontamination of noncasualties. The most important and most effective decontamination after any chemical or biological exposure is that decontamination be done within the first minute or two after exposure. Early action by the soldier to decontaminate himself will make the difference between survival and death. Decontamination at the medical treatment facility is directed toward eliminating any chemical agent transferred to the patient during removal of protective clothing; decontaminating or containing of contaminated clothing and personal equipment; and maintaining an uncontaminated medical treatment facility. Current doctrine specifies the use of 0.5 percent hypochlorite solution for chemical or biological skin contamination of the M291 kit for chemically contaminated skin. Fabric and other foreign bodies that have been introduced into a wound can sequester and slowly release chemical agent, presenting a liquid hazard to both the patient and medical personnel. Dry biological agent could be a hazard through secondary aerosolization. Adequate liquid decontamination will mitigate this hazard. There is no vapor hazard, and protective masks are not necessary for surgical personnel. 16 references