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Tests of Level A Suits -- Protection Against Chemical and Biological Warfare Agents and Simulants: Executive Summary

NCJ Number
Richard B. Belmonte
Date Published
15 pages
This executive summary presented the results from 12 Occupational Safety and Health Level A suit designs to determine their ability to protect people in a chemical or biological environment.
In 1996, the Department of Defense created the Domestic Preparedness Program. One of the goals of the program was to enhance Federal, State, and local emergency and hazardous material response to nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) terrorism incidents. In some instances, people who respond to an incident may use Level A protective suits to enter a contaminated site. A limited amount of data was available concerning the effectiveness of commercially available Level A suits to protect against chemical warfare (CW) agents. A detailed report was produced for each suit design tested and a summary report was prepared that showed the essential results for all the suits in a single document. Due to the fact that those reports were lengthy and technical, this executive summary was prepared. This report is an overview of the results of the evaluation and is primarily for emergency response organizations and managers. The suits and suit materials were tested in new, as received condition. Level A suits are designed to protects wearers from exposure to liquid, vapor, and gaseous chemicals and particulates. Air is supplied by separate self-contained breathing apparatus or supplied air lines that cover over and protect eyes, nose, and mouth. These tests addressed skin protection only, and not the air supply. Each suit was scrutinized in three ways: the Swatch Tests, Aerosol Tests, and Vapor Tests. In the Swatch tests, sample swatches were cut from selected areas of each suit. These swatches were then exposed to the chemical agents Mustard (HD) and Sarin (GB), and the passage of agent through them measured. In the Aerosol Tests, each suit design was worn by volunteer testers who carried out a prescribed series of movements inside a test chamber containing a controlled aerosol of corn oil, a non-toxic simulant for chemical and biological aerosols. In the Vapor tests, each suit design was worn by volunteer testers who carried out another prescribed sequence of movements inside another test chamber containing a controlled concentration of methyl salicylate (MS), a non-toxic simulant for chemical agent vapors. Various types of instrumentation measured the total accumulation of simulant at various locations inside the suit. Each of these tests examined different aspects of the protection provided by these suits. The test data show that the Level A suits tested can protect the wearers from chemical warfare agents. The length of time of protection provided by each suit varied greatly according to how well the suit fitted to the individual, the body motions required, and the concentration and distribution of the chemical agent in the surrounding environment. Included tables on swatch tests results for Level A suits and chemical gloves, aerosol test exercise routine, summary of overall aerosol test results, vapor test exercise routine, and summary of vapor test results. 5 tables