National Science Foundation

How to quickly sterilize medical equipment for reuse

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How to quickly sterilize medical equipment for reuse. NSF-funded researchers at The George Washington University, armed with a RAPID grant hopes to develop a plasma brush to held medical providers quickly and easily sterilize masks and other equipment for reuse.


Due to a PPE shortage during the coronavirus crisis, the CDC and FDA are allowing for sanitation and reuse of PPE. This has created new opportunities for businesses to reduce the amount of medical waste produced.

Reports of shortages of personal protective equipment have tormented coronavirus response teams throughout the outbreak.

Major mask makers like 3M have been scrambling to meet the increased need to supply more PPE. 3M says it is accelerating production of the N95 mask to achieve a run rate of 2 billion annually over 12 months. Many health providers are wondering if they might be able to get more use out of the PPE they now have.

"If I can sanitize it and it still fits and performs the same form, fit and function, why not reuse it," said Michael Ingle, CEO and founder of the mattress cleaning company Clean Sleep. "We pushed to start sanitizing masks, and we're doing that now. So we were able to keep operations going and keep our employees, and, you know, expand the opportunity. Plus, we're also serving a good cause."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released recommendations for extended use and limited reuse of the N95 respirator. The Food and Drug Administration is also issuing new approvals for companies developing innovative ways to sanitize personal protective equipment. The FDA has issued emergency use authorizations for organizations to be able to sterilize and reuse PPE. Reusing the equipment also cuts down on medical waste.

Only 12 emergency use authorizations have been documented on the FDA's website for PPE. The FDA issued a reminder that machines using ozone gas or UV light, like Clean Sleep's, have not yet been approved for decontamination.

"When the FDA authorizes the use of the system, then they also make available the specific instructions," said Nicole McCullough, global occupational health and safety leader at 3M. "So you can imagine it's not just any UV light. You couldn't put them in a tanning bed or something. It has to be a certain light and the respirators have to be placed in there, a certain way to make sure all the surfaces receive the light."

Clean Sleep applied for an emergency use authorization to start sanitizing medical devices. Ingle told CNBC the CDC allows him to claim their ability to sanitize masks and not medical devices because the UV light system can disrupt the RNA and DNA of other common virus. In the meantime, Ingle said, the company is glad to be able to help clients like senior living facilities while keeping the business open.

"If you're in this space and you recognize and capture the opportunities to help create a sanitized environment, I think that we stand to to continue to grow and to continue to serve," he said.
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