Widespread use of facemask respirators in response to the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in supply chain shortages of this piece of personal protective equipment (PPE) in some areas, and an excess of plastic waste requiring disposal in others. Both problems might be resolved with a new PPE decontamination approach developed at the University of Southampton, U.K.

The cold plasma treatment system was demonstrated to decontaminate filtering facepiece respirators without impacting their performance. After microdroplets containing SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, were applied to sample masks, the equipment was treated with a power processing unit combined with a surface dielectric barrier discharge plasma generator. Masks treated for five minutes were successfully decontaminated without impacting filter performance.

The results published in AIP Advances showed that the technology can remove 99.99% of coronavirus from contaminated facemasks while maintaining their ability to filter out harmful airborne droplets. The technique could also reduce about 70% of plastic waste associated with facemasks and facilitate the reuse of this form of PPE.

To contact the author of this article, email shimmelstein@globalspec.com