Developing a “Toolbox” of Technology Options for Responders Following a Radiological Contamination Event

By Lahne Mattas-Curry

Clean up crews in hazmat suits.

EPA researchers and partners are developing a “toolbox of options” to support decontamination and containment operations.

This week EPA researchers, in collaboration with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate, kick-off a week long demonstration to provide responders with a “toolbox of options” for radiological decontamination and containment technologies.

Decision-makers need a variety of options when responding to a radiological accident—which can include events like a dirty bomb, or a nuclear accident like what happened at Chernobyl or Fukushima. Some technologies are more effective, but less available, and others are more readily available but less effective. Depending on the circumstances, it’s important to have a plan in place for the best outcome. Decisions that are made during the first hours and days immediately following a radiological incident can have a profound impact on the cost and amount of effort needed for remediation activities.

That’s where this science comes into play.

Researchers will take a look at technologies that looked promising in the lab, but in a wide-area urban scale environment (don’t worry, there will be no live radiological contamination used in the demo) in Columbus, Ohio. The purpose of the demonstration is to show how the technologies can be applied at a city-wide scale using readily available equipment, and what impact the technologies might have on the surfaces to which they are applied.

Banner about EPA's wide-area demonstration in Columbus, Ohio

Technology Demonstration banner, Columbus, OH.

Researchers will be demonstrating stabilization technologies—like fire retardant, wetting agents and chloride salt—to reduce resuspension and tracking of radiological contaminants minimizing the effects on human health and the environment. These technologies are available to responders in large quantities and are quickly and easily deployable and help reduce the dose to responders and the public.

When responding to an event, responders drive vehicles in and out of hot zones so that they can work. Researchers will be testing a variety of vehicle decontamination technologies with waste water containment options so that responders aren’t tracking contamination from the hot zone to “clean” areas. These technologies are readily available and easy to deploy so that responders can set up a staging area quickly and efficiently without spreading contamination.

One of the main goals after an incident is getting the community back to basic operations while keeping people and the environment safe. Researchers will be looking at technologies that can be applied shortly after an event that help restore infrastructure to a level that will allow public services to be provided.

Researchers will also look at highly efficient technologies that are focused on surface radiological decontamination. Currently, these technologies may not be available in quantities that are needed immediately after a wide radiological release, but they could be used in specific instances inside critical infrastructure, including police and fire stations, electrical substations, or a nuclear power plant.

Finally, they will test on-site waste water treatment focused on safe reuse of water which may be used in decontamination operations.  Being able to reuse wash water can ease the burden on storm and sanitary sewer systems, as well as reduce the burden of wash water requirements on the city’s water supply.

This demonstration will provide necessary information supporting a “toolbox of options” that responders can use while planning for any kind of radiological contamination incident. It will provide decision-makers with a foundation as to what works in specific situations and provide information for response planning.

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About the Author: Lahne Mattas-Curry is the Strategic Communications Lead for Homeland Security Research at EPA and blogs about EPA’s research responding to chemical, biological, or radiological and natural disasters.

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