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Decontamination and the Chemical Suicide

Decontamination and the Chemical Suicide

How were they exposed and what was the chemical? 
Those might be the first two questions you ask when confronted with a chemical suicide or consumer level hazardous materials event. They're also the most important. Figuring out the how and the what can be difficult but is vital to a safe mitigation of the situation. Incident indicators such as product containers and patient symptoms can help with identification. (see Concerns grow as chemical suicide evolves)
Key Point:
You should not rely on your senses to identify chemical products and determine exposure.

Was it accidental or intentional? 
The answer to that question indicates intent and potential secondary hazard. Chemical assisted suicide situations are intentional events  carried out by mixing a variety of chemicals to form a lethal combination. We often think of Hydrogen Sulfide in these cases but Cyanide and other materials have been created as well. Consumer level hazardous materials situations most likely fall outside of an intentional event and may be accidental. We should also consider that chemical exposure can be the result of illicit chemical use - chemical bomb creation or drug production. Regardless of the intent, the cause or the chemical, we have to consider emergency decontamination at these event. (see Managing the Chemical Suicide)
Key Point
You may have to search for source of the chemical - at the event location or at prior locations the person has been at  - and send the appropriate resources.

Not all contamination is treated equally
While all contaminated persons should be considered for some level of decontamination, internal and external contamination situations require different approaches.

Maintaining a culture of preparedness
Example of emergency mass decon
Internal contamination is hard if not impossible to decontaminate. The product may/may not be known. Secondary exposure risk is not a "scene only" hazard. The potential threat persists into the transport and hospital phase of care. Once a person has ingested a chemical the risk of secondary exposure to that agent (exposure of other responders/hospital providers) increases substantially once the person has vomited. Vomiting can release the chemical and produce symptoms in those exposed.
Exposure may be in the form of off gassing from internal contamination or exposure to liquid from vomit. Prior to vomiting the chemical is contained within the body with the possible exception of exposure via exhaled breath.

External contamination has the potential for immediate secondary contamination and exposure to responders and health care receivers. Because of the variety of chemicals that could be used, the actual product may not be known. Atmospheric monitoring may be helpful to identify oxygen limited or other toxic environments. Treatment may be determined by the situation and hazardous conditions as access may be delayed while the patient is removed from the toxic environment and decontaminated.

Keys to Decontamination:
  • Decontaminate as soon as possible
  • Use properly trained and protected responders
  • Removing outer clothing of victims may remove > 90% of contaminated material
  • Bag contaminated clothing/items appropriate overpack drum or container - may be evidence - consider chain of custody issues. 
  • Control run off whenever possible -  paramount with radiological materials
  • Don't bring containers or contaminated materials (even if contained) to hospital - take a picture - or video
  • High volume/low pressure water streams may be the fastest and most effective means of emergency mass decontamination
  • Be prepared for outcomes resulting from:
    • environmental conditions
    • privacy and media issues
    • radiation text materials in public
      Sources of information
    •  casualty care issues of hypothermia/re dressing/re warming

Conclusion: Decontamination Points to Remember
  • Decontamination prior to treatment or transport - must be done on site
  • Exposed persons will flee the scene prior arrival of rescuers - contaminated self-referrals pose a risk to hospitals and staff should be on the look out for contaminated persons arriving in the ED
  • Casualties should be triaged to receiving facilities that are equipped and prepared for secondary decontamination
  • The fire department should be involved in decontamination operations at scene and hospital
  • Be prepared for events to take place at non-hospital health care locations - walk in/urgent care centers

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