The guiding principles in personal decontami-
nation are to avoid spreading contamination, to clean
contaminated areas, and to manage casualties without
aggravating other injuries.
The decontamination of chemical hazards can be
accomplished by removing, neutralizing, or
destroying the chemical warfare (CW) agents. The
purpose of personal decontamination is to remove
toxic substances from your body or personal
equipment before serious injury occurs. Examples of
these principles are as follows:
Removing: pinch-blotting the agent from your
Neutralizing: using the M291 or M258A1
decontamination kit to make the agent harmless
Destroying: burning or burying a contaminated
cloth that was used to blot off the agent
Self-aid or personal decontamination is solely
your responsibility. If tactical conditions at the time of
exposure require you to keep fighting, you must
decontaminate at the earliest opportunity.
There are definite time limits after which self-aid
so immediate personal
decontamination is important if you are exposed to
CW agents. Decontamination by either neutralizing or
removing the agent, or both, should be carried out
before serious injury occurs. You may have to rely on
whatever you have on hand to remove these agents
from your skin, eyes, or equipment. If liquid nerve or
blister agents touch any part of your body, you must
remove them rapidly, for these agents can quickly
penetrate the skin. If you are caught without the M291
or M258A1 decontamination kit or soap and water,
then use anything that is available. It may be mud, gun
oil, or even urine. A crude remover may get off only
two-thirds of the agent, but it is better than nothing.
When you are removing any agent from your body
with soap and water, scrub your body just as
vigorously as a physician scrubs his/her hands before
an operation. Exposed regions and hairy areas should
be given extra attention.
Speed is essential in self-aid. You may not know
whether you have been contaminated with liquid nerve
or blister agents, the following standard procedures
must be observed to prevent injury from liquid agents.
Decontaminate the eyes and face, if necessary
Put on a protective mask
Use the M291 or M258A1 kit for decon-
tamination of the skin
Throw away any contaminated clothing (or cut
away the contaminated parts)
Use the antidote injector only if you experience
the symptoms produced by nerve agents
The self-aid procedures for specific agents given
later should be employed if the agent has been
If chemical agents contact your skin, you must take
immediate action to decontaminate yourself. Start the
skin decontamination (or decon) within 1 minute of
becoming contaminated. Some toxic chemical agents,
especially nerve agents, are rapidly absorbed by the
skin and can kill in minutes.
If you do not have a skin decon kit, chemical
contamination may be pinch-blotted from the skin with
a cloth and then flushed with water. Pinch-blotting is
better than rubbing because it limits the spread of
contamination. Soap, if available, can also be used to
wash the agent from the skin. Washing with soap and
water (or hot water) is the next best method for toxic
agent decon. This method is not as effective as using
the decon kits.
Self-Aid for Blister Agents
Blister agents are usually released as gases and
have the odor of garlic, fish, or geraniums.
FOR THE EYES.If a blister agent gets in your
eyes, treat them instantly. Every second counts. If
there is no pain in your eyes, treat them with water only
(as described next). If there is pain in your eyes, flush
the eyes with water and seek medical aid immediately.
Flush the eyes with water. The best method is to
tilt the head back so that the eyes look straight up. Pull
the lids apart with the fingers of one hand. With the
other hand, pour water slowly into the eyes. Try to
regulate the flow of water so the flushing lasts not less
than 30 seconds and not more than 2 minutes.
Speed in decontaminating the eyes is absolutely
essential. Decontamination will be very effective for
mustard agents if it is applied within the first few
seconds; after 2 minutes it has little benefit.