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A blast from the past boosts PPE recycling efforts

bioquell masks hung 

Used respirators are hung on racks in a specially outfitted room, prior to being cleaned by a Bioquell vaporizer

Fifteen years ago, a device that looked a little like R2D2 from Star Wars was rolled into an empty patient care area at the former Hospital of Saint Raphael, turned on and left to do its work.


Saint Raphael’s was the first U.S. hospital to use the device and accompanying equipment, part of the Bioquell Room Biodecontamination Service, to remove infectious microorganisms from patient rooms that regular cleaning couldn’t eliminate. Since then, hospitals worldwide have been using similar systems to deep clean patient care areas.

Now, in the midst of a pandemic that has caused critical shortages of personal protective equipment at hospitals across the globe, the latest generation of that R2D2 device is being used to sterilize N95 respirators for Yale New Haven Health clinicians.

A recent study at Yale New Haven Hospital showed that the cleaning method Bioquell uses – vaporized hydrogen peroxide – was highly effective at eliminating three different viruses that were chosen as good proxies for SARS-CoV-2. The preliminary study results prompted Yale New Haven Health to turn a room at its Resource Operations Center (ROC) in West Haven into an N95 mask decontamination space. Construction crews had to follow strict specifications, including ensuring the ceiling is low enough to maintain the right concentration of hydrogen peroxide in the room, and sealing the windows to create a negative air pressure environment.

Staff and physicians at YNHHS hospitals are asked to deposit used masks that are not visibly soiled into recycling bins in patient care areas. The masks are collected and brought to the ROC for decontamination, which takes about five hours. YNHHS could ultimately clean 100,000 N95 respirators a week.

“Depositing used masks in the recycling bins in patient care areas is the most important step in the process,” said Margaret Cintron, YNHH director, Central Sterile Services and a member of the research team. “It’s going to take all of us to make this work, and make a difference during this critical time.”

Reminder: Used N95 respirators, masks, goggles and face shields that are not torn, broken, or visibly soiled should go in designated collection bins in patient care areas for reprocessing.