Coronavirus: Invention being installed in Washington state can sterilize, recycle 80,000 protective masks daily

Coronavirus: Invention being installed in Washington state can sterilize, recycle 80,000 protective masks daily
(KIRO7.com/KIRO7.com)

A large, revolutionary decontamination system being installed at Camp Murray, which will be able to clean and sterilize up to 80,000 protective N95 respirator masks every day, is being called an exciting breakthrough that could help solve the shortage of masks for health care professionals fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.

The process, called the Critical Care Decontamination System, uses four retrofitted shipping containers joined together, and so far, it’s the only one of it’sits kind anywhere on the West Coast.

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The system- which was quickly invented and refined by the Ohio-based science and technology company Battelle- uses vaporized hydrogen peroxide and alcohol to clean and sanitize used masks that would have otherwise been tossed in biohazard bags after a single use. It received a rush “emergency” approval from the Food and Drug Administration after it was proven to be effective in sanitizing a single mask up to 20 times after use in contaminated conditions.

There are only four of them in the country now, and they’re expected to help or even end the shortage of masks for health care workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. “The decontamination procedure is about 3 1/2 hours, followed by several hours of aeration to get to a level where staff can reenter that space,” said Will Richter, principal scientist at Battelle.

Cassie Sauer, who runs the Washington State Hospital Association, said the system could make a major impact on the vast shortage of personal protective equipment for first responders and health care workers.

"We are really excited about this decontamination unit coming to Washington," Sauer said. "We're really grateful that we're one of the first sites selected to have this unit."

The system is expected to run around the clock and put more than half a million masks safely back in use in hospitals, clinics and fire departments every week.

"So when a delivery truck shows up to drop off their next shipment, they'll drop off, reload with the PPE that's been decontaminated the previous day," said Richter.

“The shortage of PPE is serious. It’s really significant, and N95 masks are the best protection for workers against COVID spread,” said Sauer. “So the chance that we can reuse the masks we have now and know we’re doing it safely is just tremendous.”

The Battelle Critical Care Decontamination System is expected to be fully functional at Camp Murray by April 7.