Decontamination 101

The Importance of Decontamination

Recently, I was at a chemical site to conduct a site inspection and air monitoring. At the site, workers were removing ceramic refractory fibre (CRF), and a decontamination area was set up. Eventually, a worker brought a big chunk of material containing CRF outside of the containment and had it sitting in a public area without following any decontamination procedure. This resulted in the job being paused for the contaminated area and reevaluated for the CRF removal process. Missteps like this lead to extra time and money being consumed, and put those on site at risk..

So, Why is it Important to Follow the Decontamination Procedure?

As defined, decontamination is the combination of processes that remove or neutralize contaminants that have accumulated on personnel and equipment. This is essential to health and safety at a hazardous waste site because decontamination can lower exposure to harmful materials. In other words, effective decontamination reduces the risk of harm to those directly affected, and prevents further spread of contamination to other people and/or equipment.

Depending on the substance involved and the environment in which the work is being carried out, different decontamination methods may be used:

1) Physically remove contaminants, 
2) Inactivate contaminants by chemical detoxification or disinfection/sterilization,
3) Combination of both.

Physical removal can be but is not limited to:

• Water rinse using pressurized or gravity flow.
• Scrubbing/scraping. This is commonly done using brushes, scrapers, or sponges and water-compatible solvent-cleaning solutions.
• Removal of contaminated surfaces and disposal of deeply permeated materials, e.g., clothing, floor mats, and seats, clothing, etc.

Chemical Removal can be but is not limited to:

• Dissolving them in a solvent [Dilute Acids for Basic (caustic) compounds, Dilute Bases (for example detergent, soap) for Acid compounds]

A Decontamination Plan Should be Developed as Part of the Site Safety Plan

Decontamination protects all site personnel by minimizing the transfer of harmful materials into clean areas. For example, as listed in the Alberta Asbestos Abatement Manual, “decontamination facilities including a dirty room, shower room, equipment transfer area and clean room may be constructed for personnel leaving the work area or wastes that must be removed from the work area.” This area is constructed to prevent the spread of hazardous fibres beyond the work area.

There are steps workers may need to follow:

Decontamination is an essential part of any infection prevention and control program.

Here is the layout of the decontamination facility for asbestos abatement:

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