A research team at the University of Georgia has developed an electrostatic spray that could save lives following a terrorist attack involving chemical or biological weapons.
S. Edward Law of the Applied Electrostatics Laboratory led the team, which invented a process and apparatus that can decontaminate the skin of humans without producing large amounts of contaminated waste, whose subsequent safe disposal would require another step in hazardous materials handling.
The findings were announced at the recent Institute of Physics (IOP) 2003 Conference on Electrostatics in Edinburgh, Scotland.
The apparatus, incorporated with a polyethylene booth designed for mobility, is based on an electrostatic system that sprays a finely atomised mist to apply the decontaminating compound, such as antitoxins and disinfectants.
The spray-charging attributes were designed to be especially compatible with the engineering and safety constraints necessary for application to human skin. The tiny droplets have what Law has described as ‘adequate residual aerodynamic energy to convey and penetrate the electrified droplets into Faraday-shielded regions’, so the droplets are charged to effectively reach the skin of the armpit and groin areas.
Electrostatic spraying has found many industrial applications in providing even coatings, from applying paints to cars to agricultural uses for environmentally friendly pest-control applications.
Law’s walk-through booth is outfitted with several microprocessor-controlled atomising nozzles, electrically wired so that the droplets of decontaminant solution are electrostatically charged and stick to the skin of the recipient.
Law said in his IOP presentation that 90 people an hour can be sprayed head to foot with 100 millilitres each of decontaminating spray, with around 20 millilitres wasted in the process.
‘An important feature retained in our engineering design is mobility; the booth is not restricted to hospital use and provides relatively high human throughput for protective treatment,’ said Law. ‘What remains to be evaluated is the control efficacy of decontaminant sprays which are specific to likely biological warfare agents,’ he concluded.