Army Uniform that Neutralizes Chemical Agents
Mark Atwater posted on March 22, 2015 |

Chemical warfare is nasty business. Unfortunately, it is a reality that Soldiers must be prepare for. Researchers are working on reducing the impact of chemical exposure by developing a uniform that neutralizes chemical agents and self-decontaminates.

As described in a US Army News article, scientists at the US Army Research Laboratory (ARL) are studying the way harmful chemicals breakdown after contacting a specially treated fabric. The fabric has been treated using a reactive chemical component developed by the US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL).

The need for this technology exists for a couple of reason. Soldiers may be unknowing exposed as traveling through contaminated areas, such as vegetation, and there may be no decontamination site nearby or their ability to reach it may be compromised. The fabric functions by neutralizing harmful agents, such as nerve and blister agents, as soon as they contact the fabric. The material is biocidal as well, adding protection from biological weapons.

Many chemical reactions produce toxic chemicals as a byproduct, and part of the research is aimed at ensuring the fabric would not simply convert one toxin to another.  The research process involves applying a small amount of simulated (or real) chemical warfare agent to the fabric and examining the conversion of the chemical using nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy.

As described by chemist, David McGarvey, Ph.D, at the Army's Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, “We determine how effective the fabrics are at doing their job, and determine what the breakdown products are. We explain the mechanism of how these agents work, so the fabric developers can change their formulation and then make better fabrics."

The work has broader implications than even the self-decontamination aspect. Current chemically resistant suits are difficult to move in and impose an excessive heat burden, especially in hot climates where many of the Army’s current missions are held.

The current suit, known as the Joint Service Lightweight Integrated Suit Technology (JSLIST), is effective at Soldier protection, but suffers from a lack of breathability and flexibility. A new generation, known as the Uniform Integrated Protective Ensemble (UIPE), is already in field tests. As the new design is refined, it may end up incorporating this self-decontamination fabric to further enhance safety.

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