Texas A&M Researchers Propose Recycling PPE Through Radiation


Sterilizing used face masks and gowns by exposing them to electron beams could help mitigate the shortage of personal protective equipment.

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to such a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) that some health care professionals have resorted to wearing trash bags as makeshift gowns. To mitigate the shortage, Texas A&M University researchers began to study ways to recycle PPE using radiation.

David Staack and Matt Pharr from the College of Engineering and Suresh Pillai from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences teamed up, using the Food Technology Facility for Electron Beam and Space Food Research and the Plasma Engineering and Non-Equilibrium Processing laboratory on the Texas A&M campus.

Prior to COVID-19, a large portion of Staack’s research focused on medical device sterilization and decontamination. Staack, Pillai and Pharr were working on a similar medical device sterilization project funded by the Department of Energy that identified how polymers and plastics are changed when directly exposed to electron beams or gamma rays. So when the pandemic struck, it wasn’t difficult for the research team to shift their focus to begin sterilizing and recycling PPE including surgical masks and gowns, face shields and N95 respirators.

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