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Decontamination of Hazardous Contaminated Containers

Decontamination – the process of removing or neutralizing contaminants that have accumulated on personnel and equipment – is critical to health and safety at hazardous waste sites. Decontamination protects workers from hazardous substances that may contaminate and eventually permeate the protective clothing, respiratory equipment, tools, vehicles, and other equipment used on site; it protects all site personnel by minimizing the transfer of harmful materials into clean areas; it helps prevent mixing of incompatible chemicals; and it protects the community by preventing uncontrolled transportation of contaminants from the site.


There are different types of contamination that workers may encounter at a waste site, the factors that influence the extent of contamination, and methods for preventing or reducing contamination. In addition, this chapter provides general guidelines for designing and selecting decontamination procedures at a site, and it presents a decision aid for evaluating the health and safety aspects of decontamination methods. The chapter does not cover decontamination of radioactively contaminated personnel or equipment. A health physicist should be consulted if this situation arises.

Decontamination Plan

A decontamination plan should be developed (as part of the Site Safety Plan) and set up before any personnel or equipment may enter areas where the potential for exposure to hazardous substances exists. The decontamination plan should:

  • Determine the number and layout of decontamination stations.
  • Determine the decontamination equipment needed.
  • Determine appropriate decontamination methods.
  • Establish procedures to prevent contamination of clean areas.
  • Establish methods and procedures to minimize worker contact with contaminants during removal of personal protective clothing and equipment (PPE).
  • Establish methods for disposing of clothing and equipment that are not completely decontaminated.

The plan should be revised whenever the type of personal protective clothing or equipment changes, the site conditions change, or the site hazards are reassessed based on new information.

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