Skip navigation links

April 27, 2020

Efforts to decontaminate PPE expand with VHP process

Michigan State University expanded its ability to repurpose personal protective equipment with a second decontamination process using vaporized hydrogen peroxide. When combined with the heating process being employed by MSU Extension, the university will have the capability to clean nearly 15,000 pieces of PPE each day.

“As demand continues to exceed supply for this essential protective equipment, MSU is working to develop solutions to help extend the life of these products typically used once,” said MSU President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D. “That means thinking outside the box, looking at how our resources can be utilized in other ways and being creative to solve a problem. Spartans don’t see limitations; we see possibilities.”

In partnership with Lansing-based Sparrow Health System and southeast and central Michigan’s Henry Ford Health System, the MSU Animal Care Program is using an available animal research facility to treat thousands of pieces of equipment at one time. Soon the effort will expand to also take in equipment from local first responders, including the MSU Veterinary Medical Center, Lansing Fire Department and Lansing Police Department.

Unlike the heating method, which can only be used to decontaminate N95 masks, the vaporized hydrogen peroxide process is safe to use on masks as well as goggles, gowns, face shields and other safety gear. When operating at full capacity, MSU will have nine adjacent rooms using three robotic fogging machines to decontaminate about 6,700 items daily. The N95 masks can be reused up to 20 times using this method.

The university is the first public institution in Michigan to use the VHP process at this scale. The effort was spearheaded by the Director of Campus Animal Resources and University Veterinarian F. Claire Hankenson.

“By far, this is the one of the most invigorating projects I have been able to be involved with during my career – specifically, working with a multi-disciplinary team of faculty and local and statewide health partners to develop a solution that preserves and protects those on the front lines of this crisis,” Hankenson said.

Recognizing an effort of this magnitude takes multiple areas of expertise, MSU sought out assistance from health care professionals, environmental safety leaders and supply chain and logistics experts.

“We greatly value our partnership with MSU to provide an innovative approach to protect our staff who are providing vital care on the frontlines to our patients,” said Richard Davis, PhD, EdM, senior vice president and CEO, Henry Ford Health System South Market and Henry Ford Hospital. “Bringing together a dynamic team of experts in education and healthcare to create a rapid-cycle approach to extend the PPE supply is extraordinary.”

“Creating new processes like this is part of our ongoing commitment to make sure our caregivers have the proper PPE and stay safe. It’s the least we can do for physicians, nurses, and so many others on the frontlines of this pandemic,” said James F. Dover, Sparrow Health System president and CEO. “This kind of ingenuity doesn’t happen by magic. It involves collaboration, persistence, and perseverance.”

After equipment is loaded in the rooms, the VHP decontamination cycle takes six hours. Once complete and effectiveness is verified, the equipment is packaged and picked up by the health care workers’ and first responders’ facilities using proper chain of custody procedures. The process is designed to reduce the possibility of cross-contamination and ensure each piece of equipment is returned to the original user.

“In putting this plan together, we evolved from animal care and human medical professionals and administrators into a team of innovators, problem solvers and collaborators. It has been truly inspiring,” Hankenson added.

The MSU VHP system is based on published research that Battelle Memorial Institute performed for the FDA in 2015 and on their approved emergency use application parameters. The university continues to work closely with the FDA in anticipation of receiving authorization for decontamination of personal protective equipment on campus.

By: Dan Olsen