Better Detectors Top Hazmat Wish Lists

With the partial exception of bioagent detection, state-of-the-art hazmat equipment gets good grades. But it should be no surprise that hazmat mavens have a sizable wish list for new or better products.

A more-or-less official list comes courtesy of the InterAgency Board on Equipment Standardization and Interoperability. Four hazmat-related projects on the IAB’s 22-item 2009 R&D Priority List provide a timely window into what the hazmat response community said it most needs right now:

  • Improved Single Detector for Chemical Warfare Agents and Toxic Industrial Chemicals: Single device that will detect multiple agents (including both chemical warfare agents and toxic industrial chemicals) instead of carrying two or more detectors
  • Handheld Standoff Chemical Identifier: Instrument capable of detecting and identifying chemical substances from outside of exposure or contamination zone, at long or safe standoff distances. Must be intrinsically safe, able to withstand temperature and humidity changes and rugged enough for field use.
  • Multi-agent Biological Detection Field Assays: A multi-agent biological detection field assay that meets Association of Analytical Communities (AOAC) standard(s) (if applicable). The assay shall have a single sample port providing results for all assays on a panel or in test and shall be sensitive, specific, and shall not require the use of a “reader.” This assay shall be useable in a field or “downrange” all-weather environment and should have a long shelf life, stored at room temperature
  • Improved Mass Decontamination Systems: Mass decontamination systems must be capable of processing much larger numbers of people and operating in all hazard/weather conditions.

Chief B.J. Jetter, vice president of the Greater Cincinnati Hazardous Materials Team, would like to have a better baseline chemical meter, perhaps wrist-mounted and automatically transmitting data back to a command post. Beyond that, he said, a photoionization detector (PID) “that can do it all” would help keep responders safe.

Also on Jetter’s want list is voice-activated communications gear for use in Level A or encapsulated Level B ensembles. “We have a real problem with communications in hazmat suits,” he said. “It’s just hard to hear.”

Division Chief Jan Dunbar of the California Emergency Management Agency said that while current self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBAs) are good, that isn’t true of air-purifying respirators and powered APRs. He points to shelf life and other issues with APR filters. “There is no such thing as one filter filters all,” he said.

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