NBC Weapons: September 26, 2002


Since the 1950s, the US military has used a special liquid to clean vehicles and equipment contaminated with chemical weapons. Called DS2 (Decontamination Solution 2), it not useful against biological weapons and was known to be somewhat corrosive. This last item became a problem as more military equipment came equipped with delicate electronics gear. It got so bad in the early 1990s, that it was decided to replace DS2 with a new foam that was not corrosive, and also had some impact on biological weapons. So Sandia Labs (one of the oldest weapons research operations in the U.S.) went and developed MDX. Creating a better decontamination is, technically, not all that difficult. In a pinch, something like bleach will serve as a decontaminant. But for military use, you want optimal decontamination and this requires testing your new formula on real, live chemical weapons. Sandia Labs had access, and experience, with chemical weapons and produced a product that was a major improvement over DS2. There are other companies providing decontamination liquid, especially after the Anthrax scare in late 2001. But only stuff like DS2 and MDX can deal with a large variety of poisons. 

But there is a problem. The Pentagon didn't order the new MDX until August, 2002, when Central Command (the headquarters in charge of operations in Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf) announced it might be a good idea to get a bunch of decontamination material to Kuwait and nearby areas. Only two small companies make MBX, and when they got the call last month, there was only enough on hand to decontaminate a few thousand trucks. Production has since been ramped up, and the Pentagon is distributing instructions on how to decontaminate the old fashioned way (it takes longer, uses common cleaning liquids and doesn't work as well.)


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