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Lab in Idaho Falls decontaminates N95 masks for healthcare professionals across the state for free

Battelle N95 Mask decontaminator
Battelle N95 Mask decontaminator

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (KIFI/KIDK) - As more and more things begin to open, Governor Brad Little says theres a bigger risk of having a COVID-19 outbreak.

“At one point in time they were the critical weak link and we couldn't do testing, we couldn't do anything without enough in N95 masks. Now that we can clean them here, that just makes everything a lot easier,” said Gov. Little.

The Battelle Critical Care Decontamination System uses concentrated vapor phase hydrogen peroxide to decontaminate thousands of N95 masks of the novel coronavirus.

Research scientist at Battelle, Kendra Versendaal tells us the process used was researched years ago.

“The history of this technology that we're bringing here to Idaho Falls now to respond to the current pandemic really dates back to the first SARS outbreak in 2015. After that outbreak the FDA asked Battelle, to research if N95 masks could safely be decontaminated in the event of a global pandemic.”

In 2016, Battelle scientists determined that N95 masks could be successfully decontaminated without degrading the mask's performance.

In the facility in Idaho Falls, they can decontaminate 80,000 masks a day.

“Our system can clean the mask up to 20 times so when we run the mask through. When we're unloading them we go ahead and put a mark on them, and we keep count across them. That way we can keep track of how many times it's gone through this process and after 20, they would be removed," Versendaal said.

Through the program, healthcare facilities can sign up online, then they ship their N95 masks to the facility where they are decontaminated, and then they are shipped back within seven to five days.

“Our first responders and our health care providers, they're the people who keep us safe and healthy, and we rely on them, and they need the right gear to do their job," Versendaal said.

In order to decontaminate the masks of the novel coronavirus, the workers have to be appropriately geared up for their safety.

“So we have them dawn appropriate levels of PPE (personal protective equipment) before they load the contaminated mask into the chamber. So that includes as you can see here they wear a lab coat. We have pad full systems for them, full hoods, as well as double gloves, rubber boots, and scrubs. That way they can be completely safe and protected while they're doing their job,” Versendaal said.

Battelle is currently conducting research to determine if other personal protection equipment can be decontaminated using the same process.

To sign up for the program, click here.

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Jilliana Colina

Jilliana is a reporter for Local News 8 and KIDK Eyewitness News 3.


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