Government and Regulations

A Better Way to Remove Chemical Contamination

A new HHS study reveals wiping only exposed skin may not be the most effective way of removing chemical contamination.


Disrobing and wiping skin with a paper towel or dry wipe seems simple—but doing both removes nearly 100% of chemical contamination, say researchers in an HHS-sponsored study.


The study, at University of Hertfordshire in the United Kingdom, looked at various approaches to mass patient decontamination after chemical exposure: using various water temperatures, adding soap, and having patients disrobe before showering. They found disrobing took care of up to 90% of chemical contamination; wiping exposed skin removed another 9%. Finally, showering and drying off with a towel or cloth brought contamination levels down to 99.9%.

National recommendations emphasize the importance of having people disrobe and then use low-pressure water. But the researchers say in actual practice, people were not always required to disrobe, and high-pressure water from fire engines was used to shower the clothed patients. Their study revealed that showering in contaminated clothing actually washes chemicals through to the skin, increasing contamination.

“Every minute counts in protecting health after chemical exposure,” said Acting Director Richard J. Hatchett, MD, of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. “This study provides critical scientific evidence of effective actions emergency responders and community partners should consider in their emergency plan.”

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