COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Battelle’s CEO Lewis Von Thaer said the company has been working on the technology to sterilize n95 respirators for a couple of years. Now, over the last few months, they have been working on building a system to clean a high number of masks.
“We have already tested thousands of masks,” said Von Thaer, who was part of Gov. Mike DeWine’s coronavirus briefing Sunday. “We’ve done a few thousand in the test case and are now ready to turn the operation on.”
But how exactly does this work?
It all starts with a concentrated hydrogen peroxide vapor. Hospitals collect the used masks and they get wrapped and sealed in a bag. Then, before it is shipped, that bag goes into a second bag which is then wiped down with disinfectant.
Battelle experts take the shipment and load it into containers that have liners and sensors. That’s where decontamination takes place.
The masks are put under pressure with hydrogen peroxide for a couple of hours. Then, the masks cool for five to six hours and are then shipped back to the same hospital.
A single mask could be cleaned this way up to 20 times before degrading, Von Thaer said.
“We’ve been coordinating with the hospital association and we stand ready to help the whole state,” Von Thaer said. He added that a machine is also already in Long Island, New York, and Battelle has machines en route to New York City and Seattle.
Von Thaer said the company also would like to send one to Chicago and another to the Washington DC area.
The hope is that this is just the beginning of this technology. Battelle wants to use this same system to sterilize other types of respiratory equipment that Ohio and other parts of the country find themselves running low of.
“This particular approval we’ve requested for the FDA is just for the n95 masks,” explained Von Thaer. “We plan to go back with other items as we finish the [research and development] and prove we can safely decontaminate those things as well, including pieces of respirators, ventilators or reusable parts that are typically thrown away as we expect to come into shortage.”
Shortage is the concern for everyone right now, and not just with regards to PPE. Battelle wants to keep making these mask sterilization machines, but is concerned with the supply chain eventually drying up; however, in typical Battelle fashion, they are already thinking ahead. Von Thaer said the company is looking for alternate pieces that could be used to modify the system while giving the same results.
Any changes to the machines or the process would require a separate FDA approval.