Decontamination of Chemical Warfare Agents

Personal decontamination. Assistance & Protection exercise in Oman, 2004.
Personal decontamination. Assistance & Protection exercise in Oman, 2004.

Source: A FOA Briefing Book on Chemical Weapons

In protection against chemical warfare agents the decontamination is an important unavoidable part. The aim of decontamination is to rapidly and effectively render harmless or remove poisonous substances both on personnel and equipment. High decontamination capacity is one of the factors which may reduce the effect of an attack with CW agents. In this way, it may act as a deterrent.

The need for decontamination should be minimized to the extent possible by contamination avoidance and early warning. Equipment can be covered, for example, or easily decontaminated equipment can be chosen by means of suitable design and resistant surface cover.

Decontamination is time consuming and requires resources. Nerve agents and substances causing injury to the skin and tissue are easily soluble in, and penetrate many different types of material, such as paint, plastics and rubber, all of which renders decontamination more difficult. If CW agents have penetrated sufficiently deep, then toxic gases can be released from the material for long periods. By adding substances which increase the viscosity of a CW agent, its persistence time and adhesive ability can be increased. These thickened agents will thus be more difficult to decontaminate with liquid decontaminants since they adhere to the material and are difficult to dissolve.

Select a link to learn more:

1. Decontaminants

2. Decontamination Methods

3. Individual Decontamination

4. Decontamination of Equipment

Example of self-decontamination times for contamination on metal surfaces and on a typical (non-resistant) paint at +15 oC, 4 m/s and 2 mm large droplets

Note. The times for "liquid" only indicate when the surface is free of liquid, e.g., no liquid is transferred when touched. There is still a risk involved in contact and inhalation through release of gas from surfaces where the CW agent has penetrated deep
Substance     No contact risk
  Liquid Gas  
Untreated metal surface      
Soman < 5 h < 5 h  
Mustard agent < 20 h < 20 h  
VX 6-8 days 6-8 days  
Painted metal surface      
Soman 3-4 h 1,5 days  
Mustard agent
1 day 3 days  
VX 6 days 12-15 days  

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Did You Know?

The need for decontamination can only be established by means of detection. If detection is not possible, then decontamination must be done solely on suspicion of contamination.