When DuPont Personal Protection wanted to trial the effectiveness of its new Tychem® TK fully encapsulating suit for emergency responders, it found the ideal opportunity right on its doorstep.
As a world leader in chemical protection clothing, safety and risk control is an absolute priority for DuPont Personal Protection. The company’s production site in Luxembourg uses potentially hazardous materials such as ethanol, pentane and ammonia. It has a brigade of 19 firefighters – nine of whom are based permanently on site. Their mission, according to Rodney Faulk, Fire Chief of DuPont Luxembourg, is “to intervene quickly if an alarm goes off, which is thankfully very rare. Our prevention measures, in combination with DuPont’s security procedures, mean the risks are significantly reduced.”
Part of the fire brigade’s prevention regime involves staging a practice emergency event in order to ensure that the team is fully prepared for a real incident. The simulation of an ammonia leak, organised by the Works Safety Officer in close collaboration with the fire brigade, provided a perfect opportunity to field test the performance of Tychem® TK, a new gas-tight fully encapsulating suit designed by DuPont to meet the requirements of chemical protective clothing category III, type 1a-ET.
Put to the test
In common with many other manufacturing sites, DuPont Personal Protection uses ammonia as a refrigerant for the cooling of certain products during the production phase. Present in liquid form inside pipes, ammonia turns into a colourless gas on contact with air. In this gaseous state, it is very corrosive and extremely toxic. Exposure to ammonia, whether by inhalation or contact, can lead to significant breathing difficulties, irritation or burns. In a confined space, an ammonia leak can quickly lead to fatality: as the recent tragic death of an engineer at a UK brewery in Northampton1 in an incident which left 22 others needing hospital treatment clearly demonstrates.
The emergency scenario for the DuPont fire brigade is an ammonia leak found at duct level. The alert triggers implementation of a response plan in order to plug the leak as soon as possible and to establish a safety perimeter around the sector concerned. Once the ammonia supply valve has been isolated, it is time for the rescue team to move in.
This is the point at which Tychem® TK suits are put to the test. With oxygen bottles strapped to their backs, it is time for the emergency responders to don the new suits. One of the firemen wears the Tychem® TK 614T model with front entry while a second fireman tries out the Tychem® TK 615Tmodel with back entry.
Offering a high level of protection against approximately 300 liquid chemicals, toxic and corrosive solids and gases2, Tychem® TK has a permeation resistance of more than eight hours to gaseous ammonia. This high performance far exceeds real-life exposure times and guarantees that the emergency services can intervene safely and effectively.
The emergency response to the simulation takes just 10 minutes to complete. It consists of an initial assessment to establish the scale of the breach and the diameter of the damaged pipe. Then the firefighters apply a steel cuff to seal the leak. The operation is carried out without difficulty and with the greatest precision thanks to the Tychem® TK large transparent visor, which offers a panoramic field of vision of 220°.
Once the leak is repaired, the emergency team scrupulously follows a decontamination procedure. Protected by a Tychem® 6000 F Plus suit and a filter mask, a brigade firefighter hoses down the Tychem® TK being worn by each responder with a water jet containing a special decontaminant. In a second airlock is a bag in which the contaminated garment can be contained. The firefighter wearing the Tychem® TK suit undresses with the aid of two colleagues before moving into a clean zone. The bag containing the contaminated suit is then collected by a company specializing in the treatment of hazardous waste.
“Despite the oxygen bottle on our back, putting the suit on was easy thanks to the large front or back entry. In addition to the proven barrier provided by the Tychem® fabric, design features like the gas-tight zipper, double hook-and-loop closure, double-glove system and built-in socks really do give you confidence,” reports Rodney Faulk.
He concludes: “The material is robust yet flexible enough to enable us to work as comfortably as possible. In fact, the suit is no heavier than the outfits we wear when fighting fires. Above all, Tychem® TK allows us to stay calm because we know we are protected, however difficult or delicate the task may be.”
In addition to the results of conclusive independent laboratory tests carried out on Tychem® TK suits, the ammonia leak simulation with the fire brigade at DuPont Luxembourg demonstrates to all users that they can continue to trust the proven reliability of DuPont Personal Protection protective clothing.