Principal investigator: Matthew Gacura, Xiaoxu Ji and Richard Stachel

University: Gannon University

Industry partner: MP-Erie CO.

Frontline workers continue to struggle to procure personal protective equipment (PPE), such as face shields, face masks, and the associated filtering facepiece respirators (FFRs), and they have been using several disinfectant solutions to sterilize and reuse them. On March 29, 2020, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued the first Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for a decontamination process of PPEs and FFRs [1]. In the absence of manufacturers’ recommendations, third parties may provide guidance or procedures on how to decontaminate respirators without impacting respirator performance. However, decontamination might negatively alter the fit, decrease filtration efficiency, and/or compromise breathability of disposable FFRs.

These performance decreases can result from changes to the filtering material, straps, nose bridge material, or strap attachments of the FFR. The sterilization of FFRs is difficult using common nebulized disinfectants. Masks are made with micro fibrous materials that degrade their electrostatic properties, rendering the mask much less efficient. This is a likely scenario when using spray bottles to nebulize the disinfectant (alcohol solutions, chlorine-based solutions, or soaps). The filtration properties of the FFRs rapidly degrade as these polar liquids compromise the electrostatic effect within the mask fibers, thus decreasing or nullifying the protection for the user. Furthermore, the extreme volatility of these solvents allows for a residual aerosolized disinfectant to be inhaled by the individual on the first use.

We propose to test both the specification of a cost-effective sterilization chamber that can combine several disinfecting methods and the resulting performance of the FFRs after decontamination. The design will be focused on a decontamination chamber that is easy to manufacture for rapid deployment. The device can also be used by the general public for sanitizing non- washable materials such as toys in childcare centers and elementary schools where cleaning shared toys is imperative to safety.