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Building Partnerships for Decontaminating Anthrax

EPA Homeland Security researchers supported Agency efforts to decontaminate buildings affected by anthrax in New England—twice.

An anthrax decontamination site

In 2007, an EPA team from New England was called to fumigate a residence in Danbury, CT that had been contaminated with spores of the bacteria that can cause anthrax, Bacillus anthracis. The sourceof the spores was imported, untreated, animal hides that residents had used to make traditional African drums. 

EPA emergency responders called to the scene benefited from research conducted by the Agency’s Homeland Security Research Program (HSRP).  “This is a great example of translating lab results directly to an evolving response”, remarked Mike Nalipinski, a regional on-scene coordinator.

HSRP staff provided the technical information needed to select the fumigation technique used during the decontamination process.  They also offered on-site support for monitoring fumigation conditions during inclement weather and assisted on-scene coordinators manage dynamic field situations.

Researchers and emergency responders also worked together to decontaminate a wooden shed at the residence that had been used as a drum-making workshop. This involved vacuuming, washing, and rinsing the shed’s surfaces and applying a pH-adjusted bleach solution throughout the structure. 

The treatment technique used met clean-up goals set by local public health officials.  After sampling results confirmed that no viable spores remained, the residents were able to re-occupy their home and re-use the shed.

Following this incident, HSRP experts—partnered with EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs, Office of Emergency Management, and regional on-scene coordinators— worked to determine which decontamination processes were most effective.  Their objective was to develop a practical decontamination process, based upon field experience, and understand its potential applications. 

Following this effort, in 2009, EPA New England emergency responders were again called on to clean up Bacillus anthracis spores at a campus ministry building in Durham, New Hampshire.  Like the Danbury event, the Durham incident involved drums and hides. The drums had been played during a traditional music exhibition.  A woman attending the exhibition had also developed gastrointestinal anthrax. 

HSRP researchers along with staff from EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs, Office of Emergency Management, and regional on-scene coordinators advised local public health officials which decontamination processes were most likely to be effective and practical for cleaning up the building.  Recommendations were presented via a webinar with the response team.  This in turn, enabled the team to successfully decontaminate the building and assist the woman who had ingested anthrax spores obtain treatment.  Eventually her quarantine was lifted and the building was reoccupied.

EPA’s HSRP continues to advance the science needed to improve regional and national responses to and recovery from incidents involving biological, chemical, or radiological hazards.

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