With all of the rain and flooding in Houston from Hurricane Harvey this week I am sure that some of your scuba diving equipment was exposed to the rising flood waters inundating the area. I’d like to tell you how to clean and decontaminate flood soaked diving equipment. I bet your thinking, “But it is scuba equipment, its supposed to get wet, right?! It is just fresh rain water, right?”
While the initial rainfall may have been fresh water, the water that inundated many Houstonian’s homes was not. The water didn’t enter homes directly. Instead, it landed on the ground and made its way into the home by moving through storm sewers, run-off channels, bayous, etc. During this journey it may have picked up any number of contaminates. The flood water may contain dirt, animal waste, sewage, industrial chemicals, pesticides, home cleaning chemicals (especially with water in the home), oil, fuel, bacteria and viruses.
While much of your scuba equipment is designed to operate in a wet environment, it was not intended to be submerged in the rising waters of the Bayous. This type of water presents a different set of issues that are not normal to diving equipment – namely, immersion in unsafe contaminates.
The Fundamentals of Decontamination
According to the US Navy Manual, Guidance For Diving In Contaminated Waters, “the aim of decontamination is to either rapidly and effectively render contamination harmless or remove it. The goal of systematic decontamination procedures is to limit the spread of the contamination and reduce the levels to the greatest extent possible in order to protect personnel and equipment.”
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, there are a number of solutions that can be used to decontaminate equipment after exposure to contaminated water, see table 1.
|Decontamination Solution||Use against Biological Contaminants||Use against Chemical Contaminants||Safety for Diver Skin Contact||Dive Gear Compatibility|
Effectiveness: A = Very Effective B= Effective C= Somewhat Effective
Safety/Compatibility: 1= Not harmful 2 = Potentially Harmful 3 = Harmful if other precautions not followed
In talking with Nancy Burger, President of Modern Chemical, Inc., manufacturers of Blue Gold Cleaning Solutions, Blue Gold is an ideal cleaner for equipment that has been submerged in contaminated water because it is highly concentrated, environmental friendly and non-toxic. They have a number of clients using it to clean neoprene and rubber products (including Florida Power and Light) and they have reported that there is no degradation of the materials with repeated use. Blue Gold is an industrial grade cleaner that is safer for the environment than many other products and was tested by the Compressed Gas Association and endorsed for its cleaning efficiency and compatibility and has been tested by NASA and others. Additionally, it is used as a de-greasing and cleaning agent in the diving industry for cleaning equipment for oxygen service. It is the recommended product for this purpose by Atomic Aquatics, Aqua-Lung, Oceanic Products, Hollis, and Zeagle Products.
According to the Iowa State University Center for Food Security and Public Health, “in addition to chemical disinfectants, heat, light and radiation may also be appropriately used to reduce or eliminate microorganisms in the environment. The use of heat is a one of the oldest physical controls against microorganisms and is fairly reliable method of sterilization . . . Although both moist heat (autoclave, steam) and dry heat (flame, baking) can be used for inactivating microorganisms, moist heat is more effective and requires less time than dry heat. Sunlight and ultraviolet (UV) light can have a detrimental effect on a number of microorganisms and may be a practical method for inactivating viruses, mycoplasma, bacteria and fungi, particularly those that are airborne. UV light sterilizing capabilities are limited on surfaces because of its lack of penetrating power. Other forms of radiation are less frequently used but may include the use of microwaves or gamma radiation. Freezing is not a reliable method of sterilization but may help to reduce heavy numbers of bacteria; some microorganisms are resistant to freezing”. Unfortunately, most diving equipment is not heat tolerant and does not do well with long UV exposure. However, this research does indicate the some exposure to sunlight may help in the disinfection of the equipment.
Decontaminating Your Scuba Equipment
The US Navy uses a combination of products and procedures to decontaminate their personnel and equipment after diving in contaminated water. Using a modified version of these protocols should be sufficient to decontaminate diving equipment that has been submerged in flood waters.
If you find that your scuba equipment has been submerged in the recent flood waters, it’s best to assume that the water is contaminated. So, after donning your protective clothing (i.e. long pants, boots, gloves and eye protection) Let’s find out what can be salvaged.
First, remove all of the equipment from your equipment bags. Dispose of any batteries, paper products, cleaning products, defog, mask cleaners silicone spray etc. These liquid products are probably contaminated, and therefore ineffective. So, out they go.
Now line up the remaining items, including the bags, and rinse everything with fresh water and using a stiff brush, clean off any dirt or debris. Use a nozzle on the hose to get more “cleaning action.” (You can also use a pressure washer on a low setting). At this point, things should be looking up.
After your rinse is completed, let’s focus on removing any chemicals that might be in your equipment.
Option 1 Blue Gold Cleaner: In a clean trash can, prepare a Blue Gold Cleaner solution (using a 1:20 ratio) and use it to clean your equipment (Blue Gold is an all purpose cleaner which can be used to remove oil, dirt , grease, chemicals, etc. It is used an a cleaner for neoprene and rubber products as well as for cleaning all metals including air delivery systems for yuse in high oxygen environments. http://www.bluegoldcleaner.com/.) As you can see, it is very concentrated and is safe for the environment. You should use a dunking action to create some agitation in the solution to help remove impregnated chemicals on the equipment. Let everything soak for about 30 minutes. Remove the non-cloth items and let the other items soak for another 30 minutes. Then, it is time to rinse out all of the cleaner/soap. You can use your hose again, and then I would suggest using the trash can with fresh water to help as well. (Don’t worry, Blue Gold is non-toxic, biodegradable and safe for the environment). If you need some, come by Oceanic Ventures; we have it in the repair department.
- Option 2 Simple Green Cleaner: In a clean trash can, prepare a Simple Green Cleaner solution (using a 1:10 ratio) and use it to clean your equipment (Simple Green All-Purpose Cleaner can be used on any washable surface, from floors and walls to laundry stains. It removes the toughest stains including dirt, grease, oil, pet stains, coffee and juice stains, lipstick, blood, adhesives and much more. http://simplegreen.com/products/all-purpose-cleaner/.) You should use a dunking action to create some agitation in the solution to help remove impregnated chemicals on the equipment. Let everything soak for about 30 minutes. Remove the non-cloth items and let the other items soak for another 30 minutes. Then, it is time to rinse out all of the cleaner/soap. You can use your hose again, and then I would suggest using the trash can with fresh water to help as well. (Don’t worry, Simple Green is non-toxic and is biodegradable).
For our next step we are going to focus on the other contaminants that might still be present in your diving equipment. So, using the same clean and thoroughly rinsed trash can, prepare a disinfecting solution. Two choices might are:
- Bleach Solution: dilute common household bleach with water (1 ¼ cup bleach to 1 gallon of water). (Remember, chlorine bleach can damage silicone and rubber products and is hard on the environment).
- Steramine Solution: Dissolve 2 tablets to a gallon of water (it turns a nice shade of blue).
My personal recommendation is the Steramine Solution. It is a Quaternary Ammonium, Quats, solution, but unlike other Quats, it is safe for skin in its tablet form and when it is mixed with water. This is the same solution used by rebreather divers for disinfecting the breathing lungs, and it is used to sterilize kitchen equipment and food preparation surfaces in bars and restaurants. Child care facilities are also using Steramine to disinfect toys and surfaces. It is less damaging to silicone and rubber than bleach.
Starting with your non-fabric items, soak them in the solution for about thirty minutes. Remove them and set them aside. Now it’s time to move on to your fabric items. Let them soak for about thirty minutes. If you used a bleach solution, rinse the products off thoroughly. After you have finished this disinfecting stage, set everything in the sun to dry. In Houston, it probably won’t dry completely, so you may have to move it inside a clean area of your house (remember you don’t want to re-infect it) and finish it the next day.
After you have cleaned it, you may find some rubber products remain “sticky.” This is especially true with some latex products. This generally indicates that the materials have begun to break down. If this is the case, this item will need to be replaced and you should discard the item. Unfortunately, not everything can be saved.
After Cleaning and Decontaminating Your Scuba Equipment
Now, it is time to have your air delivery system and buoyancy control device serviced by a qualified service center. It is your turn to finish maintaining your other equipment…
- Mask straps, skirts, fins, snorkel, plastic retainers, etc. – treat them with food grade silicone spray (the kind your local dive shop sells). It is important to re-coat all of your silicone and plastic because the disinfection procedure dries out the materials and can cause them to wear out faster.
Bags – Use McNett “Zip Care” to clean and lubricate all of the zippers; be sure to “work” the zippers back and forth to distribute the lubricant throughout the zipper.
- Lights – Check the O-rings. Clean them of dirt and debris with a soft lint-free cloth, and lightly lubricate all them with silicone grease. Clean the electrical contacts with contact cleaner, which will remove any corrosion that may have developed.
- Dive Knives – Coat the blade with silicone (the same spray above).
- Clips and Hardware – Lubricate them with silicone spray making sure to “work” the gates and slides.
After you get your equipment back from the service center, call Dive Mom or your local Dive Facility and book a trip; you need to relax and de-stress after all that cleaning!