Demand for hazmat suits due to Ebola outbreak triples firm’s production

Pittsburgh Tribune Review May 5, 2015

Demand for hazmat suits due to Ebola outbreak triples firm’s production

Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2014

Demand for more protective hazmat suits is boosting production at an American chemical and plastics company as fears grow that the Ebola virus may spread.

Hospitals and health clinics are being outfitted with coveralls, masks, latex gloves and other equipment because two nurses in Texas became infected with the deadly disease.

And a Pittsburgh-area company wants to sell the public $35 kits with protective gear that could guard it from exposure to the virus.

DuPont, a Wilmington, Del.-based producer of suits and equipment that protect workers from hazardous materials, said it has more than tripled production of its Tyvek and Tychem suits and related apparel since Ebola emerged in West Africa.

The outbreak has sickened more than 9,000 and killed more than 4,500 worldwide.

“We will continue our best efforts to contribute to the global response,” company spokeswoman Sandra James said.

The company ramped up production in recent months when orders from the World Health Organization and groups dealing with the outbreak in West Africa increased, James said.

She declined to say how many of the suits DuPont is making or how much they cost. An online search of Tyvek and Tychem suits show prices between $10 and $15 each.

Lakeland Industries and 3M Co. manufacture protective suits and equipment infectious disease workers use. Neither company would comment on Ebola-related demand.

Nurses have complained that hospitals are not prepared to treat cases of Ebola in the United States, lacking training, equipment and plans.

National Nurses United, with 185,000 members, said 37 percent of nurses said their hospitals had insufficient supplies of eye protection; 36 percent said they didn’t have enough impermeable suits, according to the group’s survey of more than 2,000 nurses in 46 states.

The union is calling for a national standard for personal protection equipment that would protect health care workers from exposure.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended stricter guidelines for protective suits that ensure health care workers fully protect their hair and skin.

Pittsburgh-area hospitals say they have enough of the most-protective equipment to deal with Ebola, which is transmitted through direct contact with bodily fluids of an infected person.

UPMC and Allegheny Health Network hospitals stock a wider variety of protective gear, including hooded full-body suits that would shield workers from Ebola, doctors at the health systems said. The gear should provide more protection than more piecemeal combinations of gowns and gloves, officials said.
“Barriers work, but you have to use them effectively,” said Dr. Carlene Muto, infection control director at UPMC, which is ramping up worker training for the equipment.

The system of more than 20 hospitals declined to say how many of the suits it bought.
Dan Laurent, a spokesman for Allegheny Health, said the seven-hospital network ordered suits, but declined to say how many.

Lora Regan, medical director of corporate health for Lancaster General Health and president of the Pennsylvania Occupational and Environmental Medicine Society, said the state’s hospitals and other health facilities are buying more of the most-protective gear, including impermeable one-piece suits with integrated booties and hoods.

DuPont makes the most popular versions that follow CDC guidelines, she said.

The focus needs to be on training and rehearsal of the proper way for health care workers to put on and take off the suits to avoid contamination, Regan said. The CDC is investigating how two nurses at Texas Health Presbyterian became infected with Ebola even though they wore protective gear.

“There’s a lot of interest in the de-gowning process and making sure that it’s done correctly,” she said.

Weavertown Environmental Group, a Carnegie-based hazardous material handling company, is putting together kits of protective equipment that it hopes to sell to the public, perhaps later this week, CEO Dawn Fuchs said.

She expects the kit to include a suit, mask and gloves for about $35, though the materials haven’t been ordered.

Weavertown is preparing to help hospitals and homeowners that may need cleaning of infected areas, Fuchs said.

Dealing with Ebola or other infectious diseases isn’t different from cleaning up other dangerous material, such as spills of toxic chemicals or decontaminating a home that was used as a meth lab or where a murder or suicide occurred.

“The decontamination materials that have been specified by the CDC, that’s what we do every day,” Fuchs said.

Alex Nixon is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7928 or anixon@tribweb.com.