A partnership between the Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Chemical Biological Center (DEVCOM CBC) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), formed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, established strategies that can help protect the nation against future chemical and biological threats across multiple industry and service sectors.
The collaboration included the development of standardized viral sampling procedures and safe methods for testing the performance of decontamination products against highly infectious coronaviruses. During the presidential inauguration in January 2021, these processes were deployed to protect attendees from potential chemical and biological threats — an achievement that DEVCOM CBC Director Eric L. Moore hailed as a milestone for the partnership.
The new detection and disinfection protocols developed for emergency response situations also have wide-ranging government and civilian applications that can benefit hospitals and nursing homes, grocery chains, transportation, tourism, building maintenance and security, and delivery services.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began unfolding in early 2020, the role of surface contamination in viral infection spread was unclear. Quantifying the risks associated with contaminated surfaces, and developing effective methods for decontaminating public, military and federal buildings — including the White House — were high priorities for government and military leaders.
Studies of SARS-CoV-2, the highly contagious virus that causes COVID-19, are restricted to high-containment labs that have special protections for scientists working with dangerous materials. But federal, state and private labs can develop diagnostic, detection and disinfection technologies for SARS-CoV-2 by studying closely related surrogates — coronaviruses that behave like SARS-CoV-2 but are less debilitating and infectious. The partnership between DEVCOM CBC and EPA filled that critical research need, identifying a low-risk coronavirus called HuCoV229E as a suitable viral surrogate.
The new detection and disinfection protocols developed for emergency response situations can also benefit civilian sectors including healthcare, grocery, tourism, transportation, delivery services, and more.
DEVCOM CBC provided the design, supervision and reporting for sampling and assay protocols and validated the selection of effective antiviral and antibacterial technologies. EPA then made the test results available to inform emergency response decisions at federal, state and local levels using its Electronic Data Exchange and Evaluation System (EXES).
Two Interagency Agreements (IAA) made this collaboration possible. One allowed DEVCOM CBC to provide technical support and emergency response needs to EPA’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM), including validation of EPA’s environmental sampling and analysis procedures for SARS-CoV-2. This agreement took effect June 1, 2020, and runs through May 31, 2023.
The second IAA allowed EPA to request DEVCOM CBC’s help in developing and verifying tests to assess how well pesticides and other decontamination products neutralize the threat of SARS-CoV-2 on surfaces. It took effect May 1, 2020, and runs through April 30, 2023. Under this IAA, DEVCOM CBC provided the technical expertise, personnel and testing facilities necessary, and EPA contributed funding, technical input, oversight and prioritization of the projects.
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