Current military decontamination suits are awkward, hot and uncomfortable for extended periods of time. All of those complaints may be changing as the researchers with the U.S. Army are attempting to develop uniforms that decontaminate themselves.
Research at the Army’s Edgewood Chemical Biological Center (ECBC) at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, with the assistance of the Air Force Research Laboratory, is underway to pre-treat uniforms with chemicals that can render nerve and chemical agents harmless to the wearer.
“If Soldiers are in the field, they may not know they have been contaminated,” explained chemist David McGarvey. “They might be going through a foliage area that had been previously contaminated, something might brush off on the uniform, or they might be in a position where logistically they can’t get to a decontamination area – either because of the mission or because there isn’t a decontamination setup available. We are trying to increase Soldier survivability through that type of capability.”
McGarvey and his team are involved in testing the chemical compounds on the fabrics, not in developing the chemical compounds. The ECBC is engaged in research to not only make automatically decontaminating uniforms, but to ensure that the compounds don’t create harmful byproducts. “We determine how effective the fabrics are at doing their job, and determine what the breakdown products are. We explain the mechanism of how these agents work, so the fabric developers can change their formulation and then make better fabrics,” continued McGarvey.
The goal is to create a chemically-resistant uniform that is lighter in weight and less cumbersome than the Joint Service Lightweight Integrated Suit Technology (JSLIST). The JSLIST suit is an integral part of the current decontamination uniform. Because of the design of the suit, which includes rubber gloves and boots, and a gas mask with hood, it is a challenge for soldiers to wear. It is even more of a challenge in warmer, desert conditions where the heat burden on a soldier is greater.
The work is part of the Uniform Integrated Protective Ensemble (UIPE) which is being designed to replace the JSLIST. If successful, the burden on our military members will be lessened, allowing them to function more efficiently in harsher conditions.
The first version of the UIPE has already been tested at Aberdeen but has not been sent to the field. An improved design is already in the works.
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