Kansas National Guard helps extend the life of N95 masks

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Dakota Helvie
  • Kansas Adjutant General’s Department

TOPEKA, Kan. – The Kansas National Guard is helping state and local health officials address the shortage of N95 medical masks by assisting in decontaminating masks so they can be used again.

N95 Masks that would be disposed of after a single use can be decontaminated and reused for the COVID-19 pandemic response.

“This benefits the state of Kansas, affording more freedom for local treatment facilities, hospitals and clinics that use the N95 protective masks,” said Master Sgt. Joseph Carver, 190th Refueling Wing, Kansas Air National Guard occupational safety technician. “Now, they collect those masks and ship them here to be cleaned and reused.”

Extensive planning went into the system’s location, ventilation and consideration of personnel safety to mitigate the risk of exposure. Carver credits the 190th Air Refueling Wing civil engineers at Forbes Field, who engineered a more efficient and viable ventilation system to ensure the containers vented properly to provide a safe environment.

“It’s an optimal setup for the system,” said Carver. “This area has been cordoned off from other areas in the aircraft hangar to limit exposure. The main role of our team is escorting the mask from the main gate to this facility, and will be providing basic security to establish a clean zone.”

Masks labeled as “dirty shipments” are transported from treatment facilities and brought in through the hangar doors. Contractors from TRAX International, wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), receive the shipments and ensure they are packaged to meet OSHA standards for handling biohazard material.

The contractors working with the BCCDS™ follow the same strategy as the military in their testing cycles of the system – crawl, walk run. Before the system can be declared operational for contaminated material, dry and wet checks are conducted to confirm that the team’s personal protective gear for operations and containers properly seal.

The system uses a vapor phase hydrogen peroxide at the validated concentration level to decontaminate up to 10,000 compatible N95 protective masks per chamber load. It can process four chambers per sterilization cycle and run two sterilization processes per machine per day, sterilizing 80,000 masks per machine.

“Having this capability in Kansas directly improves our ability to respond to COVID-19,” said Maj. Gen. David Weishaar, the adjutant general and director of the Kansas Division of Emergency Management. “Purchasing PPE is a challenge, and this system allows us to extend the life of the N95 masks until new equipment can be obtained.”

There are 38 locations set up throughout the nation to decontaminate the N95 masks.

“This is what I joined to do – be helpful in any regards, whether that be a pandemic, natural disaster or in the event of an activation to deploy,” said Carver.