A composite fabric designed to protect humans against biological and chemical agents has passed laboratory tests and could be in products on the market within two years, officials said.
The layered blend of absorbent fabric and carbon created by Texas Tech University researcher Dr. Seshadri Ramkumar proved better at wiping off hazardous industrial and military chemicals than 30 other materials tested by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, university administrators and other officials said Wednesday.
The next generation wipes, which are a major step toward a universal personal decontamination system for nearly any toxic or hazardous chemical, could help save the lives of soldiers and civilians. The research will be described in an article scheduled for online publication today in American Chemical Society's Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research, a bi-weekly journal.
Ramkumar and colleagues note that the military long has used powders and liquids to decontaminate soldiers and equipment exposed to chemical warfare agents. But powders, such as activated carbon, can disperse into the air and damage the lungs, while water-based and reactive decontamination liquids target only a limited set of chemicals or can damage electronic equipment. Better materials are needed, the scientists say.
In the new study, the scientists describe development of a new fabric-based "wipe" composed of a layer of activated carbon sandwiched between layers of absorbent fibers. The researchers evaluated the ability of the new fabric to absorb and adsorb sulfur mustard, a toxic liquid that causes skin blistering, and compared the results to activated carbon particles and a standard military decontamination kit that uses powdered carbon mixed with other materials.
The wipes were better than particulate carbon alone and as effective as the military decontamination kit, the researchers say, noting that the flexible and non-particulate wipes show promise for decontaminating a wide range of surfaces and toxic or hazardous chemicals.
"When a soldier is fighting and there are open wounds, he will not be able to put loose particles on the skin. They needed something which is not loose particles and they also needed something which can be used both on human skin and on sensitive equipment. This is a tremendous improvement,'' Ramkumar said.
The testing results have opened opportunities to use the fabric, dubbed Fibertect, in clothing liners for first responders and chemical workers or as wipes in decontamination kits.
Emergency crews now often use a carbon-based powder to soak up chemicals, but the black coating of dust left behind can be messy when trying to decontaminate a large number of people, said William Smith, project manager on the tests at the Livermore, California-based laboratory. Fibertect sandwiches a layer of active carbon between fabrics. The cloth is flexible, holds together under a variety of chemicals and can quickly decontaminate sensitive surfaces like skin or electronics.