Home Local Birmingham Facility Helps with Shortage of N95 Masks

Birmingham Facility Helps with Shortage of N95 Masks

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Incoming boxes of N95 masks are checked in before the masks are decontaminated. (MARVIN GENTRY, FOR THE BIRMINGHAM TIMES)
By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times

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With the shortage of N95 masks, health care workers and others on the front lines in the fight against COVID-19 have to sometimes reuse their masks, but a Birmingham-based facility company has found a way to help.

Battelle Critical Care Decontamination System is one of 60 sites nationally decontaminating the vital N95 respirator face masks used to protect health care workers from contracting the coronavirus.

The masks have been in short supply and the Battelle CCDS facility can decontaminate approximately 80,000 of them per day and return them to the health care facilities where they came from.

On Friday, Batelle held a tour of the new decon site health care providers, health officials and military personnel.

“There is a limited supply of N95 masks and [they] are really hard to come by so in order to preserve and extend the life cycle of these masks, we have come up with a system at Battelle to decontaminate them [to] extend their life cycle,” said, Lauren Loggi, site leader of the Birmingham decontamination site.

The Battelle system uses concentrated hydrogen peroxide vapor in a 2.5-hour process that removes biological contaminants, including the virus that causes COVID-19 from used N95 respirator masks.

“The masks are loaded into chambers and are not exposed to outside air and will not be opened until they are inside the chambers and decontaminated with a . . . solution that circulates within the system, dwells and then it airs out,” said Loggi.

There are a total of four decontamination units and each can hold up to 20,000 masks depending on environmental conditions such as humidity and temperature, Loggi said.

The masks go through one four-hour cycle to be properly decontaminated and once a cycle is completed, the masks will be packed up in the chambers and will be sent back to users.

Brian Hastings, Director of Alabama Emergency Management Agency, said the facility is an important part of preserving personal protection equipment (PPE) for those on the front lines.

“This decontamination site makes sure our folks get the personal protection equipment (PPE) that they need to care for people whether they are in nursing homes, coming to hospitals, or fire and EMS responding to COVID-19, that they are protected from disease transmission,” said Hastings.

This service is provided at no charge to organizations that include hospitals, long-term care facilities, dialysis centers, imaging centers, outpatient surgical centers and emergency medical service providers in Alabama through a federal contract with the Battelle. The system is strictly intended to optimize the personal protective equipment supply for medical workers in a health care setting, not individuals or other organizations.

More information for health care providers about the Battelle decontamination system is available at battelle.org/decon.