Why did this government-funded N95 mask decontamination station close?

Four months into the service of decontaminating thousands of N95 masks and N95 respirators, the Jefferson site of the Battelle Critical Care Decontamination System is set to close. The reason being, the station is not being used to its full capacity.

While the N95 mask decontamination station has the capacity of removing the novel coronavirus in around 80,000 masks a day, as of date, not even a quarter of their daily capacity has been sent to the station in the four months it was in operation.

The Battelle Critical Care Decontamination System 

In the United States, the coronavirus pandemic has created a massive shortage in the N95 mask supply, so much so that healthcare and frontline workers in the USA have been forced to reuse their individual N95 mask over and over again. Sometimes, N95 mask uses exceed five shifts of use, which translates to around 60 hours of use.

Why is this so? If you try to buy 3M N95 masks like the 3M 8210, 3M 8511, 1860 N95 mask in a size that fits you, even for kids, you would be hard-pressed to find these products for sale online. You may find alternatives at wholesale prices and buy in bulk. These may include kN95 masks, face shields, reusable masks, medical and surgical face masks. These may offer virus protection against the flu causing novel coronavirus.

Meanwhile, the best use for a single-use disposable face mask is only 8 hours. Beyond 8 hours, the N95 mask is deemed unsafe to use. That is, it can no longer filter out up to 95 percent of the virus in dust, smoke, and air. An antiviral face mask like the N95 mask should no longer be used beyond its effectiveness period. Yet, healthcare workers have been doing so and compromising their protection.

To alleviate the limitations in the N95 mask supply, the Battelle Critical Care Decontamination System was started. The N95 mask decontamination station is funded by the U.S. government and has 48 stations nationwide. While the Missouri location closes, other nearby sites remain open for N95 mask decontamination. The Jefferson site alone serves more than 950 first responders and healthcare organizations across Missouri.

The efficiency of Battelle’s decontamination process

The Food and Drug Administration is responsible for the approval of the decontamination process used by Battelle. Their process has been approved along with other N95 mask decontamination procedures. Moreover, the Battelle N95 mask decontamination methodology is tested and verified by NIOSH.

The Ohio-based government-funded facility received its federal contract late in April. However, the N95 mask decontamination facility has not been popular. There were only 35 N95 mask decontamination facilities in operation despite 48 sites having been opened nationwide. Apart from the Jefferson site, there are other sites expected to close that by the end of October, there will be only 31 N95 mask decontamination stations expected to still be in operation.

Why are hospitals not using Battelle?

Despite Battelle being FDA-approved and fully-funded by the government with around $415 million government funds to open and operate, the N95 mask decontamination endeavor seems to be failing.

First off, a lot of hospitals have learned to develop N95 mask decontamination systems that will work for them. This reduces the need for remote N95 mask decontaminations.

Furthermore, the N95 mask supply chain is said to be improving, according to a spokesman for the Missouri Hospital Association. Granted, in the state of Missouri, the N95 mask shortage is slowly being alleviated, in the rest of the country the N95 mask supply remains to be a problem.

Moreover, not all doctors and nurses in the country can say they have N95 mask decontamination systems that are working efficiently and safely for their needs. Then, the existence of Battelle as an N95 mask decontamination facility continues to be an essential service. Even the Missouri station, when it first opened, was clearly an essential service, but whether or not the hospitals in Missouri fully took advantage of the N95 mask decontamination process remains a topic for discussion.

Even as the Missouri station of N95 mask decontamination closed, the experience in PPE management has lessons that can help the country carry on through this pandemic and any more in the future.

How does Battelle decontaminate N95 masks?

Battelle CCDS provides N95 mask decontamination by utilizing concentrated, vapor phase hydrogen peroxide. This process decontaminates biological contaminants, in particular the novel coronavirus or SARS-COV-2.

After N95 mask decontamination, the N95 mask can be reused, and then go through N95 mask decontamination again multiple times. This process will not result in N95 mask performance degradation.

What are the other N95 mask decontamination methods?

Besides the N95 mask decontamination process used by Battelle, the FDA also studied other decontamination methods. The proper procedure of N95 mask decontamination allows for N95 mask reuse up to three times.

These N95 mask decontamination methods help alleviate the disruptions in the N95 mask global supply. Some of the methods for N95 mask decontamination include passing through the UV light at 260 to 285nm or passing through 70 degrees Celsius of dry heat. Alcohol may also be used for N95 mask decontamination as long as it is 70 percent ethanol. Then, there is the vaporized hydrogen peroxide process which Battelle used.

The fastest way to inactivate the novel coronavirus was found to be the vaporized hydrogen peroxide treatment for N95 mask decontamination. The slowest way to kill the virus was under UV light, but which preserves the N95 mask function adequately.

Dry heat was found to kill the virus at the same speed as the UV light N95 mask decontamination process. Finally, ethanol alcohol use for N95 mask decontamination significantly reduced the N95 mask filtration efficiency.

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