A safer way to clean chemical weapons from contaminated equipment

Those involved in the clear-up of chemical weapons are kept safe by protective clothing such as gas masks. But how do you de-contaminate a gas mask and safely dispose of it when it is a chemical hazard?

The air filters found in protective equipment, which are made of porous materials such as activated carbon that capture harmful substances, can be incinerated. But often the combustion products of chemical warfare agents are also toxic, and can go on to cause environmental damage and future health hazards.

Now, researchers at the Israel Institute for Biological Research have come up with a safer way to clean filters contaminated with three chemical weapons: sarin, VX and sulfur mustard. Simply treating contaminated activated carbon with hydrogen peroxide, a cheap oxidising agent that is easy to get hold of, breaks the adsorbed weapons down into non-toxic products. The team found hydrogen peroxide decomposes more than 95% of the contaminants they tested, and can take as little as one hour when a 20% solution is used. As it is simple, versatile and works quickly at ambient temperature, the team say their approach could be ideal for use on clean-up operations in remote areas.