Army to study biological decontamination of aircraft interiors
May 31, 2013
- What would happen if a spore or powder were to be released on a commercial jet? The Army looks to mitigate potential biological agent hazards.
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (May 31, 2013) -- In the aftermath of a biological attack, aircraft decontamination would be a complex, challenging process. Army researchers are looking at ways to get military aircraft decontaminated and ready to use again.
The U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command's chemical and biological center is finding decontaminants that are effective, yet nondestructive to aircraft interior surfaces, sensitive equipment and electronics.
Researchers at the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center are in the early stages of developing a kit for this purpose. The Rapid Detect-Identity-Decontaminate Kit is for spore-forming bacteria and decontamination.
Using ECBC assets that include test beds and biological decontamination methods, C-130 cargo aircraft, barcoded spore technology and conceptual model designs and animations for the kit prototype, the project will provide the means for developing a solution for hazard mitigation.
The kit concept resulted from a previous multi-directorate collaboration between Debbie Menking, project manager for the center's Chemical Biological Application and Risk Reduction Business Unit, and Sofi Ibrahim, Ph.D., a microbiologist in ECBC's Research and Technology Directorate who conducted decontamination biological efficacy assessments at ECBC for the Joint Project Manager-Protection.
The methodologies and success from the project have grown into another cross-directorate opportunity for ECBC that will explore decontamination efficacy inside aircraft.
"Leveraging momentum from the decon testing in order to take it to the next level was our goal,". Menking said. "The Section 219 funding provided the means to drive the development of the proposed kit forward using tri-directorate assets to explore how effective a Detect-Identify-Decontaminate process could work against biological agent hazards inside an aircraft."
Section 219 funding comes from the National Defense Authorization Act of 2009, which allows military and government research laboratories to tax customers up to 3 percent of all revenue sources as an indirect fee that helps finance the overall cost of a given project.
The proposed kit was awarded funds after meeting the required proposal criteria: innovation, collaboration and potential transition to the Warfighter. It was one of nine Army projects that effectively met ECBC's Threat Goal Team objective of maintaining awareness of emerging threats and was subsequently awarded the 219 funding, as announced March 27.
"CBARR will complete the test execution of the decontamination trials, and the C-130 aircraft are an ECBC capability that nobody else has. Having the ability to walk into an aircraft for testing is unparalleled for most other agencies," said Jerry Pfarr, branch chief of CBARR's Biological Operations Branch.
The C-130s enable CBARR to advance its biological decontamination capability and begin the six-month testing immediately.
The biggest challenge, Pfarr said, will be generating the results and delivering the program in a way that will attract interest from the right agencies in order to build the future of aircraft decontamination programs at ECBC.
"Our hope is that we generate enough interest from some of the major funding organization to create opportunities that will get the C-130s back on the radar and make it known that this capability is here at ECBC, which is located in close proximity to many of these agencies," Pfarr said.
Using the proposed kit, a hazard mitigation team sent inside the aircraft would be able to accurately assess the situation, presumptively identify the agent and determine proper decontamination steps.
According to Menking, if somebody opened up an envelope and a powder came out, first responders would go in with their Detect-Identify-Decon kit using hand-held assays for presumptive identification of contamination as the first step in spot-checking around the aircraft.
"What of kind contamination do you have? Is it ricin? It is anthrax? The beauty of the project is its potential to expand the concept to build decon kits for toxins, bacterial spores, bacterial vegetative cells and viruses. We have tested a decon technology that we know is effective against all three classes of organisms," Menking said.
Decontamination testing will occur on surfaces inside the aircraft as well as on coupons of chemical agent resistant coating painted steel. Barcoded spores simulate anthrax and will be deposited on the surfaces to illustrate the presence of contamination.
Next, surfaces will be decontaminated with the decontaminate, and according to Menking, should show either a lower level of the simulant or nothing at all in order to fully demonstrate an effective decontamination process.
The developing kit has the potential to impact real world situations in a variety of environments that may be exposed to suspected contamination or serve as a potential hazard mitigation tool if a spore or powder were to be released on a commercial jet liner. Proof of concept for this kind of decontamination method will lead to a conceptual rendering of the kit with potential for development of a prototype kit in future studies.
Jeff Warwick, Engineering Directorate's Conceptual Modeling and Animation branch chief, is leading a team to create virtual prototype concepts and supplemental visual communications for the kit during the six-month testing phase.
"Engineers will be brought in to work with CBARR and advise, based on past experiences with other projects, what are some things to consider in the prototyping process," said Warwick. "For example, the durability and packaging material for those kits could be different depending on whether they will be used on the battlefield or in the homeland."
The kit will include government-off-the-shelf hand-held assays for rapid identification and consist of assembling commercial-off-the-shelf components to decontaminate interior surfaces of the aircraft. ECBC acquired the C-130s from Little Rock Air Force Base in 2011 as part of joint effort between CBARR and the Joint Program Manager-Protection, but initial plans to study decontamination systems for chemical and biological agents were dismissed due to budget restraints.
Now, 219 funding has afforded ECBC the chance to explore the biological aspect in a new way, with center-wide capabilities that were not available two years ago. By expanding opportunities for funding across the center, research projects can begin to thrive in places that are typically difficult to generate new business leads.
"The 219 funding is for 'good ideas' projects. Somebody might have a really good idea that can benefit the Warfighter or homeland defense, but without any funding it would be difficult to prove without a prototype," Warwick said. "Once this is developed and we have a prototype, ECBC can showcase its benefits, conduct an analysis of its technical capability and seek real funding opportunities."
In June, the ECBC team will design experiments to be tested through August, which will assess detecting sensitivity and decontamination efficacy. A final report will be presented in September.
ECBC is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to develop technology and engineering solutions for America's Soldiers.
RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command. AMC is the Army's premier provider of materiel readiness -- technology, acquisition support, materiel development, logistics power projection, and sustainment -- to the total force, across the spectrum of joint military operations. If a Soldier shoots it, drives it, flies it, wears it, eats it or communicates with it, AMC provides it.