The Ohio-based science and tech company, Battelle has set up a system in Madison to decontaminate N95 respirator masks worn by all of Wisconsin’s medical professionals. The facility will be able to clean 80 thousand masks a day. Once it’s up and running, hospitals and doctor’s offices across Wisconsin can send their used N95 masks to be disinfected, and receive them back clean in 72 hours.
Field Technician Specialist Caitlyn Farragher from Battelle led a tour of the facility on Tuesday. She says masks that come in with makeup or blood, cannot be fully decontaminated. Those are sent off to biohazard disposal.
The decontamination system is in three shipping containers behind thick plastic curtains. Farragher says Battelle made this technology during the 2015 ebola outbreak, but these containers were made in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. She says the masks will stay inside the chamber with a hydrogen peroxide vapor for about 8 hours until fully decontaminated.
Farragher says the program is paid for by a federal grant. The grant pays for 60 facilities across the nation. States with the Battelle facilities include Illinois, New York, and Washington. The one in Madison will service the entire state.
In an email to WORT, a Battelle spokesperson there is no a charge for the service or the shipping.
Lead Training and Exercise Officer for Wisconsin Emergency Management, Kevin Wernet says currently the state has UV sites that are operated locally to decontaminate Personal Protective Equipment–like gowns. But the new site will allow more extended use of the N95 masks. He says that the site will begin to accept masks later this week.
Any hospital or doctor’s office in the state can use the service. But if you’re someone who has an N95 mask for other reasons–the service isn’t for you.
UW Health Chief Quality Officer Jeff Pothof says that UW Health has already been using a hydrogen peroxide vapor to decontaminate N95s after someone wears it for a shift, but to a much smaller capacity. So far UW Health is stockpiling the sanitized masks in case they run out of new N95s.