Human volunteer study of the decontamination of chemically contaminated hair and the consequences for systemic exposure

Samuel Collins*, Thomas James, Felicity Southworth, Louise Davidson, Natalie Williams, Emily Orchard, Timothy Marczylo, Richard Amlot

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


The decontamination of exposed persons is a priority following the release of toxic chemicals. Efficacious decontamination reduces the risk of harm to those directly affected and prevents the uncontrolled spread of contamination. Human studies examining the effectiveness of emergency decontamination procedures have primarily focused on decontaminating skin, with few examining the decontamination of hair and scalp. We report the outcome of two studies designed to evaluate the efficacy of current United Kingdom (UK) improvised, interim and specialist mass casualty decontamination protocols when conducted in sequence. Decontamination efficacy was evaluated using two chemical simulants, methyl salicylate (MeS) and benzyl salicylate (BeS) applied to and recovered from the hair of volunteers. Twenty-four-hour urinary MeS and BeS were measured as a surrogate for systemic bioavailability. Current UK decontamination methods performed in sequence were partially effective at removing MeS and BeS from hair and underlying scalp. BeS and MeS levels in urine indicated that decontamination had no significant effect on systemic exposure raising important considerations with respect to the speed of decontamination. The decontamination of hair may therefore be challenging for first responders, requiring careful management of exposed persons following decontamination. Further work to extend these studies is required with a broader range of chemical simulants, a larger group of volunteers and at different intervention times.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20822
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This paper is based on independent research commissioned and funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Policy Research Programme (PR‐ST‐1015‐10016). Samuel Collins and Tom James are part-funded by the NIHR Health Protection Research Unit (HPRU) in Chemicals and Radiation Threats and Hazards (CRTH) at Imperial College London, Tim Marczylo is part-funded by the HPRU in CRTH and the HPRU in Health Impacts of Environmental Hazards at Imperial College London and Richard Amlôt is part‐funded by the HPRU in Emergency Preparedness and Response at King’s College London. The views expressed in the publication are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR, the Department of Health and Social Care, arms-length bodies or other Government departments.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020, The Author(s).


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