The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced people across California, throughout the country – indeed, around the world – to personal protective equipment or PPE. When it comes to fentanyl decontamination, personal protective equipment plays a crucial role in keeping people safe. The stark reality is that exposure to a fentanyl contaminated site can present profound health risks. In fact, the potential exists for a person inappropriately exposed to a fentanyl contaminated site to experience a fatal contact with highly hazardous fentanyl.

People involved in fentanyl testing and decontamination are particularly at risk when it comes to the health hazards associated with this drug. There are a number of key facts and factors to bear in mind when it comes to fentanyl decontamination and PPE. 

  • Understanding the risks of fentanyl exposure
  • Nature of fentanyl contamination
  • Fentanyl testing and PPE
  • Site decontamination and PPE
  • State, local and institutional standards

Understanding Risks of Fentanyl Exposure

Fentanyl is a highly hazardous drug. Exposure to fentanyl can have dire consequences. The reality is that exposure to only a very, very small amount of fentanyl can cause a person to experience severe and even potentially fatal health consequences. Even an amount of fentanyl the size of a grain or two of salt can cause an exposed person to experience health problems.

When it comes to fentanyl testing and decontamination, there are a number of ways in which exposure to the drug can cause harm. These are:

  • Exposure to bare skin to fentanyl (because the drug can absorb through the skin)
  • Inhalation of fentanyl
  • Ingesting of fentanyl residue through the mouth

Nature of Fentanyl Contamination

There are several key facts associated with fentanyl contamination that need to be addressed as part of understanding the PPE necessary for testing and decontaminating a site tainted with the drug. These include:

  • Oftentimes, fentanyl contamination arises because the drug is brought or maintained at a site in powder form. A prime example is a property being used for what is known as a pill mill. In the United States, illegally obtained fentanyl oftentimes is converted from powder form by pressing it into a pill. In addition, with alarming regularity, fentanyl is being used to cut other drugs. Specifically, fentanyl is being mixed with heroin and cocaine. Powder fentanyl at a particular location can result in fairly widespread surface contamination.
  • In addition, fentanyl can also end up in a property’s HVAC system. Once again, this happens when fentanyl in powder form is brought into a particular structure. When fentanyl ends up contaminating an HVAC system, the consequences are significantly perilous. In a single-family home, fentanyl that gets into an HVAC system can be blown throughout the residence. Fentanyl pill mills many times are run out of motel rooms. When that happens, and if the property has a common HVAC system, the drug can be blown throughout the premises. Contamination can become significantly widespread.

Fentanyl Testing and PPE

PPE is an important consideration during the fentanyl testing process. When a person is accessing a site suspected of fentanyl contamination to test for the drug, that individual must don appropriate personal protective equipment.

The level of PPE needed for testing is not necessarily as significant as that associated with what must be utilized during the decontamination process. With that said, at a minimum, during the testing phase of a site cleanup, PPE needs to include:

  • Nitrile gloves
  • Wrist and arm protective covering
  • Protective eyewear
  • Disposable N100 or P100 FFR respirator device

Again, it is important to stress that these are minimum PPE requirements for testing at a site suspected of fentanyl contamination. 

Site Decontamination and PPE

When it comes to the actual fentanyl decontamination process, the level of necessary PPE is notably more significant. In the case of fentanyl decontamination, required PPE includes:

  • Nitrile gloves (recommended course is to wear double nitrile gloves)
  • Chemical hazards protective ensemble (NFPA 1999 single or multiple use ensemble or 1994 class four ensemble)
  • SCBA respiratory protection (full face device)

State, Local, and Institutional Standards

When it comes to the matter of fentanyl testing, fentanyl decontamination, and fentanyl PPE, you also need to bear in mind that state, local, and institutional standards can come into play. In other words, there may be state, local, or institutional protocols that need to be followed when it comes to testing for fentanyl and decontaminating a site. Part of these protocols may be directives pertaining to PPE. 

Bear in mind that fentanyl protocols on the state, local, and institutional levels generally are works in progress. For example, most states have yet to develop complete standards relating to issues like fentanyl testing, decontamination, and personal protective equipment. Nonetheless, when it comes to arranging for PPE relating to fentanyl site testing and decontamination, reference must be made to whether or not any state, local, or institutional standards, protocols, or directives exist.