Baths Engineering Problems in A.R.P.

Baths and Bath Engineering The Official journal of the National Association of Baths Superintendents No.51 May 1938 Vol.5 p.108 to 109

Baths Engineering Problems in A.R.P.

By Decontam Officer Baths Engineer

IT is generally acknowledged that public baths establishments possess so many of the peculiar requirements of poison gas decontam work, that their selection for this public service under active service conditions will be inevitable, even so far as to be a national organisation, and further, as so many of these establishments are already applying adaptation measures to function as and when required for the purpose of poison gas decontamination centres or A.R.P. service depots it would appear desirable that a general pooling of ideas should take place as soon as possible, in order to prevent unnecessary expenditure of time and money on misdirected effort and experiments.

Immediately adaptation work is commenced in a bath building in which the decontamination of persons or, anti-gas garments will have to be carried out, a number of problems will arise con­cerning the utilisation of existing engineering plant, and it will be found imperative to intro­duce certain additional safeguards, modifications and systems, many of which can be put into operation without further delay.

Let us first consider from an engineering point of view the problem of decontaminating all the protective clothing required to be maintained at a high standard of efficiency for the decontamina­tion squads, road repair parties, buildings rescue and demolition squads, and vehicle decontamina­tion- workers together with the depot staff of undressers, mustard laundry workers, and con­taminated material burners, all of whom will need full protection from poison gas during the execution of their duties under active service conditions.

It is obviously of paramount importance that this clothing and equipment should be main­tained in perfect condition, and any imperfection or neglect to maintain its protective properties will endanger the wearer, whose false sense of security as to his immunity from blister gas may ultimately result in his becoming a casualty.

The efficiency of protective clothing depends solely upon its ability to exclude blister gas vapour, which it does by virtue of the impenetra­bility of the dried linseed oil dressing with which the clothing is impregnated and finished.

Hence it is that any process of decontamina­tion which has any faults in its application, which may destroy or impoverish these essential properties in protective clothing must be immediately remedied.

The successful decontamination of this class of clothing is not a complex matter, provided that due attention be paid to the design of the plant used for this work, and that the protection of the mustard laundry workers be duly considered and provided for.

To decontaminate oilskin suits, oilskin gloves, oilskin hoods, etc., it is required that they be subjected to continuous boiling for 30 min., which time is but a minimum.

The mustard boiler should be vapour tight, thus it is necessary to provide a vapour dis­charge vent, which in turn should be connected through a non return shutter regulator to the baths chimney stack, thus the poison gas vapours given off in the boiling process are rendered harmless and discharged into high atmosphere.

In the mustard boiler proper, a protective grill is fitted to prevent the oilskins coming into direct contact with steam pipes or coils, also a cover grill should be fitted to keep the suits fully submerged during boiling, as it is found that if this is not done, ebullition causes the clothing to rise above water level and thus some may escape the scouring action of the boiling.

Practical experience in this class of work has proved beyond a shadow of doubt, that rotating mechanical washing machines usually found in public laundries are too severe on this type of clothing, due no doubt to its tendency to bulk together, and imprison water, hence it is found that apart from mechanical abrasion of the protective oil dressing by violent contact with the revolving drum vanes, pockets of water are imprisoned in the clothing producing pressures that tend to burst the seams.

During the boiling process a rapid hydrolisa­tion of mustard gas takes place evolving hydro­chloric acid, hence it is necessary to run off the water from the boiler through a trapped waste pipe after the boiling period, and replace with fresh water for a final rinse.

The drying off of oilskin suits after decontam­ination is best carried out by hanging the suits on wire frames, and subjecting them to mechanic­ally induced draught, preferably at ordinary wind temperatures, and no attempt should be made to hasten the drying process by using heat, as this is detrimental to the oil dressing.

Rubber boots are decontaminated by being subjected to continuous boiling for two hours, after which they are rinsed off in clean water and hung up to dry at ordinary temperature.

Practical experience, here again has taught us a lesson. If rubber boots are put into cold water and this is then brought up to boiling point and kept thus for the stipulated two hours, no damage is done to the vulcanised seams whereas, if the boots are plunged into boiling water such damage often results.

This seemingly trivial item becomes a very serious one if one considers the importance of the rubber boots to the wearer, who may have to actually walk in liquid mustard gas, or through water in which mustard gas is being conveyed.

This gas being insoluble in cold water remains in the form of oily globules and the water merely acts as a vehicle, thus it will be readily under­stood how a leaking seam of a rubber boot will act in bringing about an ultimate casualty.

Further to this, mustard gas will penetrate rubber after an indefinite period (arbitrarily set at two hours), hence any decontam process that may shorten this period of protection must not be allowed to become usual practice.

Having dealt with the decontamination of oil­skin suits, gloves, hoods and rubber boots, we now arrive at the respirator or gas mask.

The decontamination, care and maintenance of the service type of respirator is a subject in itself, and one which must eventually receive far more attention than it has up to the present.

The grave responsibility of caring for this important apparatus will rest with the baths officer, should his establishment function as the depot for all decontamination service personnel, and will mean, in figures, the efficient main­tenance of upwards of 200 respirators (service type).

Experience in the decontamination of these gas masks is absolutely essential, as it involves the complete dismantling and, after decontamination, re-assembling and re-fitting, with every joint re-wired and bound airtight (gastight).

Although very little attention, officially and unofficially, has been given to this matter from a civilian aspect, such lamentable neglect of so important a subject would, if allowed to persist under actual air raid conditions, be fraught with peril.

Skill is required to do this work efficiently, such skill as can only come from actual experience, and this, combined with a working knowledge of the principles of the respirator’s functions, will result in a highly desirable state of readiness, should the occasion ever arise, when the more serious issues of poison gas attacks would be put to the test.

The personal decontamination requirements of some 200 men, comprising the various squads based on the baths, when used as a central depot, will demand attention and not a little engineering ingenuity, inasmuch as numbers of simultaneous shower baths will be required at very short notice to service squads of workers returning to the depot after spells of outside duty.

Drainage to waste, through traps. will have to be arranged under each shower to ensure a rapid’; removal of used water.

The fitting up of sufficient eye irrigators to allow of every man having immediate access to one upon his entry into the wash-room should also be noted as a matter of primary importance, and it has been already found, when making this pro­vision, that individual cubicles constructed of impervious material, each fitted up with overhead shower, central floor drain, eye irrigator, bleach ointment container, soap and nail brush holder,, assures every man facilities to carry out his personal decontamination thoroughly and in the, order of priority dictated by the degree and region of his contacts or suspicions.

When reference is made to the official publica­tions on the subject of decontamination of personnel or clothing, it will be soon realised that, apart from the broadest principles of the pro­cesses, no guidance at all can be found regarding engineering practice to be adopted, and one has to presume that the compilers had sufficient con­fidence in the skill – and imagination of the engineering profession to leave the details to them.

Thus such essential details as the sizes and design of mustard gas boilers, controlled vents for dangerous vapours from these boilers, effective traps,’ gastight drains and manholes, controlling contaminated water to the sewers, are all left to the ingenuity of the responsible engineer, whose imagination will require to be elastic enough to enable a working solution to these problems to be evolved.

Apart from mustard and lewisite decontamina­tion processes, no other serious engineering problems arise in the adaptation and conversion of public bath buildings to poison gas decontamina­tion centres or A.R.P. service depots, therefore my final submission is that the baths engineering profession concentrate on the problems connected with these two gases as far as they themselves are connected with them and, by a general pooling of ideas, endeavour to arrive at a satisfactory, practical working solution, with the thought ever before their minds : “There is an urgent need for such a solution and such a pitiful few searching for it.”

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