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Human volunteer study of the decontamination of chemically contaminated hair and the consequences for systemic exposure

Publication date: 

30 Nov 2020


Sci Rep 10, 20822 (2020)


Collins S, James T, Southworth F, Davidson L, Williams N, Orchard E, Marczylo T, Amlôt R

Publication type: 



Abstract The decontamination of exposed persons is a priority following the release of toxic chemicals. Efficacious decontamination reduces the risk of harm to those directly affected and prevents the uncontrolled spread of contamination. Human studies examining the effectiveness of emergency decontamination procedures have primarily focused on decontaminating skin, with few examining the decontamination of hair and scalp. We report the outcome of two studies designed to evaluate the efficacy of current United Kingdom (UK) improvised, interim and specialist mass casualty decontamination protocols when conducted in sequence. Decontamination efficacy was evaluated using two chemical simulants, methyl salicylate (MeS) and benzyl salicylate (BeS) applied to and recovered from the hair of volunteers. Twenty-four-hour urinary MeS and BeS were measured as a surrogate for systemic bioavailability. Current UK decontamination methods performed in sequence were partially effective at removing MeS and BeS from hair and underlying scalp. BeS and MeS levels in urine indicated that decontamination had no significant effect on systemic exposure raising important considerations with respect to the speed of decontamination. The decontamination of hair may therefore be challenging for first responders, requiring careful management of exposed persons following decontamination. Further work to extend these studies is required with a broader range of chemical simulants, a larger group of volunteers and at different intervention times.