Equipment decontamination is a process which is designed to clean equipment after it has been contaminated or after it has been used in a situation in which contamination may have occurred. Some types of equipment are specifically designed to be easily decontaminated, such as hospital equipment, while for others, special protocols may need to be used. Equipment decontamination can be used to clean equipment after exposure to chemical, biological, or radiological contaminants, and also for the purpose of maintaining a “clean room” free of dust and other contaminants which could interfere with an industrial process.
Equipment used in environments where cleanliness is vitally necessary and contamination can occur on a regular basis has been designed for decontamination. It is made from materials which can easily be wiped down, for example, and the equipment will not be damaged by exposure to decontamination measures such as ultraviolet radiation, irradiation, soap and water, heat, and so forth. The equipment is usually designed to be decontaminated in a particular way. Some examples of this type of equipment include hospital equipment, equipment used in the manufacture of electronics components, equipment in chemical companies, and equipment used in food production.
Other equipment may not be designed with contamination in mind, which can make it more challenging to clean when unexpected contamination occurs. In the wake of a release of radioactive material, for example, equipment decontamination can be used to clean equipment which was exposed to the material so that it can be salvaged and reused, rather than being abandoned. In these cases, it may be necessary to develop a custom decontamination method for the specific situation.
Decontamination procedures usually start with isolating the contaminated equipment so that it cannot spread contamination. Then, the equipment can be cleaned with the methods most appropriate to the equipment, and tested to see if contamination is still present. Some equipment decontamination is entirely automated; surgical tools, for example, are decontaminated in an autoclave. In other cases, people must perform the decontamination by hand, as when an ambulance is decontaminated after a patient with a blood-borne disease bled substantially during transport.
In facilities where contamination is a risk, there are usually equipment decontamination protocols which people can follow when contamination occurs. In addition to decontaminating equipment, it is often necessary to decontaminate people who were also exposed. In many regions, emergency services have practiced large-scale responses to contamination incidents, such as a response which might be needed if a chemical or biological agent was released in a city.