Voluntary Consensus Standards for Chemical Detectors

June 2012
Topics: Emergency Preparedness and Response, Hazardous Substances, Warfare
Pamela M. Chu, National Institute of Standards and Technology
Charles E. Laljer, The MITRE Corporation
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In the event of a toxic chemical release, either through an act of terrorism, industrial accident, or natural disaster, effective incident management requires accurate real-time chemical analysis of the materials in question. To help ensure that proper evacuation and decontamination procedures can be initiated, it is critical for first responders and soldiers to have chemical detection equipment which enables the identification of the chemical hazard, the threat level, and the boundaries of the contaminated area. Furthermore, the detection equipment must operate reliably and accurately, and the users must have confidence in the equipment. Correctly identifying and quantifying hazardous chemical vapors in the field is challenging; there are hundreds of industrial chemicals that are toxic at low concentrations from parts-per-million to sub parts-per-billion concentrations. Environmental conditions and commonly occurring benign chemicals can impact the measurement of vapors of interest by either masking the presence of a toxic material (false negative) or, conversely, by triggering an alarm when toxic materials are not present (false positive). These false negative alarms expose people to significant health risks while false positive alarms cause user loss of confidence in the equipment and unnecessary and costly evacuations.

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