Protective Equipment

Source: A FOA Briefing Book on Chemical Weapons.

The best protection is obtained by continuously carrying some kind of respiratory protection. A protective mask to be used for long periods must be comfortable. A solution tested in some countries is a facelet, a semi-protective mask which is supposed to be more comfortable to wear but does not provide as good protection as a normal protective mask.

In this section:

Checking mask for contamination using two different types of hand-held detectors.

Modern Masks

Experience has shown that the facelet is not a good alternative and, consequently, efforts are made to make the conventional protective mask as comfortable as possible to wear. This can be achieved partly by making a broad and flexible sealing edge and also by reducing the physiological load in the mask.

In modern protective masks, the inhalation resistance has been reduced by decreasing the air resistance in the filter. Exhalation resistance is reduced by means of a carefully adjusted outlet valve with a large flow area. Protective masks are designed so as to reduce the dead space.

Other characteristics of the new generation of protective masks are a large field of vision and very small leakage, which in turn implies high protection. Despite this, a small proportion of the wearers will still receive insufficient protection either because of diverging face shape or inability to don the mask in the best way. This proportion can be reduced by better training and education but cannot be entirely eliminated.

Learn more about protective masks.

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Protective suits.

Body Protection

The oldest types of protective clothing against CW agents consists of rubber clothing which, together with gloves and boots, cover the entire body apart from that protected by the mask. Clothing of this kind is usually characterized as impermeable. This not only refers to the fact that CW agents cannot pass through the material but also the fact that perspiration released from the skin is also prevented from passing out. Consequently, to wear clothing of this kind for longer periods may be extremely uncomfortable and in hot climates the period during which protective clothing of this kind can be worn will be very short.

In order to reduce the heat load, permeable clothing has been designed where a layer of finely distributed active carbon, either bound in polyurethane foam or as particles of carbon, is bound between two layers of textile. A layer of this kind consisting of active carbon permits water vapour released from the body to pass through. The active carbon absorbs CW agents and thereby prevents them from passing through to the skin. This layer of carbon is never used alone but is combined with different textiles.

A CW protective suit is an example of clothing made of permeable material. The largest difference is that inside the impregnated outer material there is a layer of active carbon on a suitable carrier. The CW protective suit can be used instead of a battle dress or as an overall placed over the uniform. An alternative is to use inner clothing with a layer of carbon which is worn underneath the normal uniform.

Impermeable suits will also in the future be used in severely contaminated environments, e.g., during decontamination. The heat load can be reduced by ventilating the clothing with fans. However, this solution is too vulnerable to be used.

In order to achieve shortterm CW protection, it is possible to use overalls made of different plastic material, e.g., the C-Cover dress.

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Did You Know?

Two special terms are used with regard to protective clothing, penetration and permeation.

  • Penetration implies that gases or liquids pass through seams or holes, etc. in a protective suit (non-molecular passage).

  • Permeation implies that gases or liquids diffuse through the material, e.g., rubber, in a protective suit (molecular passage).