The US government has introduced science-based guidelines for how to swiftly decontaminate large numbers of people after a chemical-weapons attack or an industrial chemical accident.

The guidelines, published on 21 February, are the first in the United States to be based on extensive on research and testing. They recommend that emergency responders instruct people to quickly undress to their underwear and wipe themselves dry with absorbent materials, such as paper towels and bandages supplied on the scene. Tests showed that this ‘dry decontamination’ method removed 99% of chemicals from a person’s skin, when carried out properly.

The guidance also highlights that it’s crucial to give individual assistance to people who need it, for example those who have disabilities that restrict their movement, or who have difficulties understanding instructions.

Terrorist threats and the use of chemical weapons in Syria have heightened awareness of the need for improved preparedness against chemical attacks, says Gary Disbrow, deputy director of the US Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), which prepared the guidelines. “First responders are supportive of the fact that it is evidence-based guidance, and not just, ‘We used this last time and it seemed to work’,” he says.

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