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CEPaR Corner: What does a Decon Team do?

Each year, thousands of people are told to “shelter in place” or “evacuate the area” due to accidental chemical releases. About a month ago, a woman died after exposure to an insecticide while her grandchildren were treated at our facilities for chemical exposure; people in Columbia county were temporarily evacuated from their homes as over a thousand gallons of fuel spilled into the roadway; and as I write this, a man fights for his life, in the local burn unit, following an industrial accident that released over a thousand pounds of irritant (for which he received the brunt of).

Every day, we face a threat — not just some random act of terrorism, but rather an act of human error. A short cut taken results in the release of anhydrous ammonia; an error in judgment tears a hole in a tanker truck; a tired worker grabs the wrong product resulting in an explosion. All of these things, and many more, can lead to the accidental release of chemicals into our environment.

Last year, over 1,000 separate events around the United States led to thousands of people being hospitalized for chemical exposures. During these events, several hospitals had to close their own doors in order to decontaminate their employees and their facilities. More and more each year, we see victims of chemical events bypassing the traditional Hazmat decontamination and self-transporting directly to the closest hospital. This year alone, two dozen victims have presented to Georgia hospitals in need of decontamination before medical treatment could begin.

Sometimes, if the hospital is not prepared, their employees become contaminated as well. This results in the need to temporarily close the facility as their employees and facilities are decontaminated. Here, our Emergency Department and Decon Team stand ready to intercept these contaminated victims and provide the decontamination needed so that medical treatment can begin.

Every month, the 35-plus members of our Decon Team train in the use of special suits and breathing equipment as well as the process of Decon. With over 150 years of combined experience, the team is prepare for any chemical event which sends victims our way, whether it’s a dozen victims or 500.

On Aug. 27, the Decon Team, along with members of the Emergency Department, OHS, and local volunteers, will practice these lifesaving skills. Exercises, such as this, allow our staff to develop and maintain skills that are essential in the successful operation of any decontamination event. While the current roles of the Decon Team are filled, the team can always use help with the ancillary roles. If you have interest or questions about the Decon Team, contact Kevin Wells (kewells@gru.edu) for more information.

Article contributed by Kevin Wells, Office of Critical Event Preparedness and Response