Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Did You Know? Fun Facts about ECBC's 95 years!

This year Edgewood Chemical Biological Center celebrates 95 years of integrating lifecycle science, engineering and operations solutions to counter chemical biological threats to U.S. forces and the nation. In honor of this historical milestone, the Center is running a special ECBC History Blog series throughout the month of January. In this last installment, learn some little known facts about the history of the use of chemicals.

  • One of the earliest proposals for the design of a mask to protect an individual against toxic fumes came from the notes of Leonardo da Vinci. 

  • The use of animals to detect biological agents was used as an early field detector in Hawaii shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Fear of a follow-up Japanese biological attack led the Chemical Warfare Service to put small fish in aquariums at key locations.

  • Johann Baptista van Helmont (1577-1644), born in Brussels, began to identify various gases given off by different processes like combustion, fermentation, and the heating of organic matter. While studying the chemistry of air, he shattered so many containers while generating gases from various chemical reactions, that he coined the term “gas” from the Greek word for chaos.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Did You Know? Learn Fun Facts about ECBC's 95 years!

One of the more interesting investigations during World War I was the use of snails and slugs as chemical agent detectors.  US researchers reported that “by combining observations on the tentacles, slime production and movements of the organism as a whole, it is possible with a little experience to tell with some degree of accuracy the kind of gas used, and in the case of chloropicrin and mustard gas distinguish certain concentrations of those gases.”  When a prominent French physiologist was asked to research this possibility, he burst out laughing when told it was the edible kind of snail and said French soldiers would eat the snails first.  A test was conducted using French snails, but the conclusion was that the foreign snails were more conservative in their impulse to wave their tentacles.  The final conclusion was that it “would appear unsafe to place too much reliance on their immediate behavior when placed in the presence of mustard gas in the field.”

Monday, January 9, 2012

Technology Spotlight: History of Protective Masks

Protective masks have seen a tremendous change over time as the threat and use of chemical and biological (CB) agents has increased. In 1917, when the United States took part in World War I, the soldiers were ill-prepared for the chemical warfare used at the time. Since then, the protective mask has seen several generations of evolution from off-the-cuff improvised designs, such as bandages or scarves wrapped around the nose and mouth, to the M50 Joint Service Purpose Mask series, which contains end- of-service-filter indicators that can be removed and replaced.

Edgewood Chemical Biological Center (ECBC) has played a significant role in the maturation and improvement of this essential piece of equipment for the Warfighter over the years. In particular, ECBC’s Protection Factor and Toxic Chamber Branch (PFTC) has played a large role in ensuring that protective masks developed at ECBC are of the highest quality.

"Many masks have come through here. The M40 has been tested in ECBC's Protection Factor Test Chamber facility for over ten years, testing on close to 10,000 people. For the M45, we tested 1,000 people before fielding the product," said PFTC Branch Leader Alex Pappas.

A combination of the team’s rigorous test procedures and ECBC’s unique Protection Factor Test Chamber facility have helped to maintain the quality of protective masks developed by ECBC.

The facility is designed to evaluate chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear protective capabilities of respirator systems such as masks and clothing. In order to simulate exposure to chemical agents, volunteers don test items and enter a test chamber

The air inside the protective equipment is sampled for challenge aerosol particles while the subject undergoes a series of exercises intended to evaluate worst-case operational conditions.

"There is a standard set of exercises used during testing but we work with the customer to tailor specific exercises to their requirements, pending approval by the Human Use Committee," said PFTC Chemical Engineer Steve Yurechko.

Sampling is accomplished through a length of silicon tubing that is connected from the mask and/or suit to the laser photometers. Finally, the protection factor number (also known as "fit factor") is graphically displayed real-time on a computer monitor.

This protection factor number carries a weighty amount of importance in PFTC’s work, and has been a cause for innovation at times in the past. Heeding to the old adage that "necessity breeds innovation," Pappas recalls several innovations and technologies in protective masks that his team was responsible for, which were direct responses to this "fit factor."

"The higher the protection factor number, the greater level of security afforded by the mask," Pappas said. "PFTC helps ensure that the Warfighter is getting the best possible respirator. Many masks have come through here and we work to ensure each mask meets our standards of quality, meeting or exceeding the protective factor number that a particular mask is required to have."

Thursday, January 5, 2012

A talk with Jeff Smart, Aberdeen Proving Ground Command Historian of the G-5 Historical Operations Division

As a part of ECBC History Month, Historian Jeff Smart who is the the official command historian for RDECOM Headquarters answered four questions about his background and job.

                                                     How did you get your start as a professional historian?

I completed a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Arts degrees in history at San Jose State University, in San Jose, CA. While searching for a history job, I ended up working for the Internal Revenue Service as a Revenue Officer for one year and then becoming a Special Agent with the Defense Investigative Service. After two years of being known as "Agent Smart" I finally got my dream job as a historian. Unfortunately it was about 2,900 miles from where I grew up, so I loaded up my car and moved to Bel Air.

How did you end up in your current position, and what does that position entail?