Personal Protective Equipment for Biological and Chemical Threats

Dear Fellow Survivalist;

Greetings. With all the myriad of potential disasters we face every day, it’s difficult to be ready for everything. Besides the logistical problems associated with finding everything we might need, there is also the financial problem of paying for it. That’s why I’m a big believer in doing things myself and finding solutions that don’t require buying expensive equipment that I might never use at all.

chemical-protective-suitThat’s why I ignored the possibility of having to deal with biological and chemical hazards for so long. I really didn’t want to lay out as much money as I thought it was going to cost, so that I could have that sort of protection. I was envisioning gas masks at hundreds of dollars a piece and protective suits that rivaled the MOPP gear we had in the Army.

But I’ve since found a better solution; one that really doesn’t cost much at all. While it might not be a perfect solution, I see it as a great stop-gap, which will protect me and my family in the vast majority of situations. About the only thing it wouldn’t protect us from is the risk of breathing in chemical agents, whether sent at us from a major chemical warfare attack or a major spill of toxic chemicals. I say this, simply because as of yet, I’m avoiding buying any sort of gas masks. But if I added those, I’d be set for just about anything.

I’m lumping chemical and biological threats together here, simply because so much of what you have to do is the same for both. About the only difference is the aforementioned gas masks. Those really aren’t needed for a biological threat (although they can be used), while they are needed for a chemical one.

So, what do we need, if we have to protect ourselves from extremely dangerous biological agents or from dangerous chemicals?

The key in both cases is isolation. We have to make sure that they don’t come into contact with our skin. While biological agents can’t penetrate the skin, without a cut or natural opening (like the eyes or mouth), if they get on the hands, there’s a good chance they will make their way into the mouth. You’d be surprised how many times per day you put your hands in your mouth, or put something you’re holding in your hands into your mouth.

A biological isolation suit of the kind they use in hospitals and laboratories cost about $1,700. But you can do the same thing for less than $20. All you need is Tyvek overalls. If you can find the kind which have the booties and hood built into them, that’s the best. Even so, you’ll want to buy extra booties, so that you can put booties over the ones in the suit. There’s just too much chance of them wearing through to not take that precaution.

The other thing you need to protect your body (we’ll talk about the head in a minute) is rubber gloves. Pretty much any rubber gloves will work, but the best are the ones they use in hospitals. These are usually made out of latex and a are a bit hard to find. But you can get a pretty good aproximation by buying nitrile gloves. While not sterile, they are used for a wide variety of tasks which require protecting your hands from chemicals. They’re also available at hardware stores, home improvement centers and Harbor Freight.

The key here is using more than one pair of gloves. You’ll want to put one pair on before putting your Tyvek suit on. In fact, this pair of gloves should be the first thing you put on to protect yourself and the last thing you take off. Then, once you put your Tyvek suit on, tape the sleeves of the suit to this pair of gloves with masking tape. That will keep anything from snaking its way in.

A second pair of gloves should go on over the first. These are intended to be disposable. If you touch something that could be contaminated, you remove these gloves, turning them inside-out in the process, so that the contamination is inside. Then you immediately don another pair. The inner pair of gloves says put, protecting you while you’re changing this pair.

In severe situations, you might even wear a third pair of gloves, especially if there is a chance of the outer pair being torn. That way, no matter what happens, you’re still protected.

Okay, so we’ve protected the body, but we still have the head. That’s the most important, as it has the most openings that chemical or biological agents can enter your body through. We want to be especially careful about the head.

Basically, we need two things, besides the hood on our suit. One is a mask and the other is eye protection. While you can buy a gas mask and have both in one, gas masks tend to be expensive. Another option is to use surgical masks and goggles. The 3M N95 mask is pretty much an industry standard, able to eliminate almost all bacteria and provide protection. You can also go with the folded flat fabric masks, which are actually becoming more popular.

Either way, the mask is intended to stop dust and bacteria. Which solves your biological problems, even if it doesn’t stop chemicals. The N95 will stop some chemicals, as it is made with a layer of activated charcoal in it. While not a perfect chemical solution, it’s better than nothing.

Another option is to buy a paint respirator mask. These are much less expensive than actual gas masks and are designed for filtering out airborne chemicals. As such, they will work fairly well for chemical threats, even though they aren’t as good as an actual gas mask. Just make sure you buy extra filters, as you will need to change them after a while.

I mentioned goggles for your eyes a moment ago. What I was referring to were the cheap plastic goggles which we all used in high school chemistry. Those are sufficient to keep droplets which contain bacteria and viruses out of our eyes, as well as protect our eyes from splashing chemicals. A better option is to buy a medical face shield. While a few bucks more, it covers the entire face, including your mask. That way, your whole face is protected from splashes, coughs and sneezes.

So, for a sum total of $20 to $40 per person, you can actually have some pretty darn good personal protection equipment. This will allow you to go out in a dangerous environment, without running the risk of being gassed or catching a deadly disease. And that’s what this is all about.

Until the next time, keep your powder dry and your survival equipment, including your personal protection equipment, close at hand.

-Chris and Dr. Rich

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