Hazmat suit for Ebola

Ebola On A Budget: How To Save On A Hazmat Suit

Out of more than 13,000 reported cases of Ebola since March, only four were in the United States. But that hasn’t stopped people from going to the airport in hazmat suits.

CNBC noted at the start of October that “sales of a type of full-body protective suit were up 131,000 percent and sales for one type of mask had risen 18,000 percent in 24 hours.”

Infectious disease experts have called these people foolish for panicking. But people throw all kinds of money at problems they hope won’t happen. It’s called insurance.

What really makes them foolish is not comparison shopping. Deflecting disease-riddled projectile vomit from your mucous membranes may be the top requirement for Ebola gear, but value ought to be second.

So here’s what you need to know and spend if Ebola visits a neighborhood near you…

Pandemic pricing to die for

It’s easy to overspend on hazmat gear — some of it can cost thousands of dollars per piece. But then you see the really cheap stuff and wonder: Is this even safe?

So we talked to a guy who’s been selling safety gear for more than 30 years about what’s good for Ebola: Rick Pedley, the CEO of PK Safety in Alameda, California. Here are some of his suggestions, along with the prices at his store…

Personal protective equipment (PPE) Price
3M 7500 Series Half-Face Mask $32.50
Pyramex G704T Goggles $4.90
DuPont Tyvek TY122S Coverall Suit $10.65
Ansell 37-155 15 mil. Gloves $4.05
Onguard Monarch Economy PVC Boots $16.10
Total $68.20

“What we’re recommending is in line with the CDC recommendations,” Pedley says. “I’m very comfortable with where we are.”

And that sounds like a reasonable price for not death. Here’s a sampling of other stuff we saw before talking to Pedley, just for comparison’s sake — we’re not recommending it…

Then there’s the totally do-it-yourself, household-item hazmat suit. A YouTube user called DrNoOB shows how to make it out of plastic bags, a garbage bag, and a 2-liter soda bottle cut into a face shield.  “Please note this will only increase protection by 25%,” he warns. We’re not sure if he’s joking, but Pedley says it’s better than nothing.

“There’s many ways you can protect yourself, and I can imagine if I’m in Africa I’m going to use whatever I’ve got,” Pedley says. “I don’t know we have that problem here. With some sort of homemade deal the real problem is decontamination, removing it without getting contaminated.”

But that’s a problem for professionals too, he says — health care workers receive special training to put on and remove the gear, and usually work in teams. It’s complicated enough that USAID is offering grants of $100,000 to $1 million for better Ebola safety techniques or gear.

How to wear and remove hazmat gear safely

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a ton of information on Ebola, including recommendations for personal protective equipment — the industry term for hazmat gear — and how to remove it. But most of the information is intended for healthcare workers. (Consumers get a graphic warning that drinking chlorine is not a cure for Ebola.)

So we asked the CDC whether consumers should consider buying safety gear, and what they thought about homemade gear. Here’s the response from public affairs specialist Melissa Brower…

I think it’s most important to emphasize that Ebola is only spread through direct contact with the blood or body fluids of a person who is sick with Ebola, through objects (like needles and syringes) that have been contaminated with the virus, or though infected fruit bats or primates (apes and monkeys).

Healthcare providers caring for Ebola patients and the family and friends in close contact with Ebola patients are at the highest risk of getting sick because they may come in contact with infected blood or body fluids of sick patients. In the United States, very few people fall into these categories. We do have a web-based PPE training on our website, but again, this training is designed for healthcare workers caring for patients with Ebola in U.S. hospitals.

In short, if you learn the basics and stay away from West African vomit and wild game, you probably don’t need a hazmat suit for Ebola. But if you want to know how the pros do it, the information is there.

Brower also pointed to the transmission and risk of exposure pages as useful information for consumers, but Reddit’s Ebola forum has a crowdsourced and well-documented FAQ you might find more consumer-friendly.

Ebola in town

If a guy who’s run a safety gear store his whole life isn’t worried about Ebola, you probably don’t need to be either.

“I’ve done SARS, I’ve been selling safety for over 30 years. When I saw this cable news merry-go-round start I just thought, ‘You’ve gotta be kidding me,'” Pedley says. “The CDC said 32 people died of dog bites in 2013.”

That doesn’t mean it’s not good for business. Pedley, who says he’s seen a “significant uptick” in orders and inquiries, has some specific gear recommendations for those who want to be prepared, just in case. We link and price them out below, but the best safety recommendation he can offer is free.

“Number one, just stay away. Now, is that always possible? So far,” Pedley says. What do you do when it’s not possible? Well, we’ll leave you with a free song on the topic…

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