Lasers could be used to decontaminate after CBRN attack

Utilizing funding and guidance from the Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate, scientists at the Idaho National Laboratory have begun developing a laser based method of decontamination after a CBRN attack.

Because building materials, including cement and brick, are porous, removing contaminants in cracks and pores from an attack are hard to remove, causing decontamination to be costly, difficult and time consuming.

The common method for decontamination after such an attack would employ other chemicals, such as bleach solutions, that can be corrosive and aggressive to many types of surfaces.

Donald Bansleben, the program manager in S&T's Chemical and Biological Division, has said that lasers could solve the problem of cleaning porous materials.

“Lasers could help to scrub chemical-contaminated buildings clean and become a tool in the toolbox to speed a facility’s return to normal operations," Bansleben said.

The cracks and pores of building materials harbor water. Laser pulses can be used to flash the water into steam, which would then carry contaminants to the surface for removal by chelation or another means.

Tests are currently underway at the Army's Aberdeen Proving Ground using ultraviolet wavelength lasers to scrub sulfur mustard gas and nerve agents from surfaces. So far, the tests have been successful, even on concrete.