Fentanyl.

The word looks innocuous, harmless. 

The stark reality is that fentanyl has become the driver of the national opioid epidemic in the United States, including in the state of California. Fatal fentanyl overdoses have become a major cause of death among people who improperly use prescription medications and among those who purchase the drug illegally. 

In addition to users, abusers, and addicts, those people called upon to remediate sites contaminated by fentanyl, including HAZMAT teams, are placing their lives on the lines when it comes to fentanyl decontamination. There are a number of important facts and factors that HAZMAT teams – and the general public – need to understand when it comes to sites potentially contaminated by fentanyl.  

Increasing Fentanyl Hazard to HAZMAT Teams and First Responders

Over the course of the past several years, there has been a steady increase in the number of HAZMAT teams and first responders exposed to fentanyl who become ill in the process. This reality heightens the need to better understand what needs to be done to better protect HAZMAT teams (and first responders) when these professionals come into contact with a suspected fentanyl contaminated site. 

Fentanyl Personal Protective Equipment and Chemical Protective Clothing

During COVID-19, the general public has obtained quite a significant education on personal protective equipment or PPE. There is a specialized type of PPE utilized when it comes to HAZMAT teams dealing with fentanyl. Part of the PPE used by a HAZMAT team is what is known as chemical protective clothing or CPC.

CPC is described as being a critical component in guarding against fentanyl exposure. A HAZMAT team must utilize CPC specifically designed to protect specialists sent into a fentanyl contaminated site. In this regard, the CPC must be designed to guard against the fact that fentanyl can seep into a person’s skin or eyes. It can also be inhaled rather easily. Ingestion of fentanyl through any of these courses can result in an array of potentially serious and even fatal health issues. 

Quick and Reliable Fentanyl Detection

When it comes to HAZMAT teams and potentially contaminated sites, quick and reliable fentanyl detection is vital. A HAZMAT team must have the equipment and other resources to undertake a reliable, fast testing of the premises. Typically, this is undertaken by taking swab samples and conveying these samples to an approved testing lab. A HAZMAT team must be able to obtain swab and test results from a lab immediately. Any delay heightens the potential hazards and dangers associated with a suspected fentanyl contaminated site. 

Safe, Effective Fentanyl Decontamination

The manner in which a fentanyl decontamination effort is undertaken depends to some degree on the extent and nature of contamination at a particular site by this highly toxic drug. There are two general categories into which fentanyl contaminated sites can be placed.

First, there are sites that are heavily contaminated by fentanyl. The term “heavily contaminated” is rather subjective. You must bear in mind that fentanyl residue the size of a couple of grains of salt can have serious consequences for people who come into contact with it. 

The bottom line is that many sites with fentanyl contamination fairly can be classified as begin heavily contaminated. If a site is heavily contaminated, a HAZMAT response may be required. If there is a question about the level of contamination, those involved in making a determination about the level of response should err on the side of caution and engage a professional HAZMAT team.

Examples of sites that are heavily contaminated include what are known as fentanyl pill mills. These are properties in which fentanyl powder is pressed into pill form for sale. The process of pressing fentanyl powder into pill form can result in a property becoming highly contaminated with fentanyl residue. It becomes a truly toxic environment. 

Second, there are sites at which the level of fentanyl contamination is not as significant. For example, if a location has been used by a fentanyl user for a period of time, the house, apartment, motel room, or other location may be contaminated by residue of the drug, but not to the extent found at a property that had been used as a fentanyl pill mill.

Calling in a HAZMAT team may not be a necessary initial step in containing fentanyl contamination in this type of scenario. With that said, at a minimum, an experienced fentanyl cleaning company will need to be brought to the scene to ensure safe, thorough remediation and the return of the property to a useable condition. 

As an aside, when a HAZMAT team initially is called to a fentanyl contaminated property, additional decontamination is provided by a professional remediation company. A HAZMAT team will address in the immediate, tremendously hazardous issues at a location. A fentanyl decontamination company will follow up providing a thorough remediation of what contaminates remain in the premises to ensure that the property is returned to a safe, usable condition.