Battelle deploys decontamination system for reusing N95 masks

In the near term, Battelle’s facility plans to begin decontaminating respirator masks for at least four central Ohio health systems this week. (Battelle)

Battelle received an emergency go-ahead from the FDA over the weekend to deploy its decontamination system for personal protective equipment (PPE), allowing healthcare workers to clean and reuse scarce N95 respirator masks.

The system is currently operating at Battelle’s Ohio facility—capable of processing up to 80,000 masks per machine, per day, within what looks like a large metal shipping container—and has been working to help stretch supplies for the OhioHealth system based in Columbus.

Using concentrated hydrogen peroxide vapor, the filters are gassed for two and a half hours to destroy bacteria, viruses and other contaminants, including the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. According to the company, the system can clean the same N95 mask up to 20 times without degrading its performance.

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The FDA had first OK’d the use of the system on Saturday but initially limited its use to 10,000 masks per day, according to Republican Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, who called on the agency to unlock the system’s full decontamination capacity. DeWine also said this would have limited Battelle’s plans to deploy machines to the hard-hit New York metro area as well as Washington state and Washington, D.C.

Within hours, and after President Donald Trump also urged the FDA to approve the equipment on Twitter, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn tweeted late Sunday evening that the agency had issued an amended authorization.

In the near term, Battelle’s facility plans to begin decontaminating respirator masks for three other central Ohio health systems this week.

Battelle previously engaged with the FDA from 2014 to 2016 to study the use of its decontamination machine in the midst of a potential pandemic and PPE shortage. Currently, the company is exploring its use outside of N95 masks to other equipment such as ventilator components.

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