BOYNTON BEACH, Fla. -- A $20 strip of vinyl and paper that changes colors when exposed to nerve agents, cyanide and other chemicals protects police, firefighters and others who rush into the heart of disasters. The HazMat Smart Strip, inspired by military technology, has gone into production this month in West Virginia. Fire departments in New York and Florida already have ordered thousands of the strips.
"It's not good to use your nose to detect chemical spills," said Lt. Cris Aguirre, a hazardous materials technician for the Miami-Dade Fire Department in South Florida.
The baseball card-sized Smart Strip can detect chlorine, pH, fluoride, nerve agents, oxidizers, arsenic, sulfides and cyanide in liquid or aerosol form at minute levels. A change in color in the eight categories alerts emergency crews to get additional gear, decontaminate or evacuate. How long they have to act depends on the chemical. Within the eight categories are thousands of compounds. Hazardous materials' technicians say the Smart Strip is a valuable early warning system.
"It might not tell me exactly what it is, but it gives me an alert," Aguirre said. "It's like the fire alarm in your house. It alerts you to take action."
Inventor Mike Reimer got the idea after years of watching his colleagues tape pieces of pH paper and a military litmus paper called M8 to their hazardous materials suits. "I thought it would be a huge improvement to have it all in one paper so we developed the technology," said Reimer, a full-time firefighter and hazardous materials technician in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Reimer formed Safety Solutions Inc. of Boynton Beach, Fla., and took his concept to the National Technology Transfer Center at Wheeling Jesuit University in Wheeling, W.Va. Congress created the center in 1989 to help take technology from the lab to the commercial sector. The strip is "a novel, very low-tech idea," said Mike Lucey, manager of the NTTC's Emergency Response Technology program.
The Smart Strip's top selling points are its price and ease of use. Electronic monitors that detect chemicals can cost between $2,000 to $50,000 per device, Reimer said. The monitors also require extensive training to operate and thousands of dollars to maintain.
The HazMat Smart Strip requires little training and attaches with either a peel-and-stick adhesive strip or a clip like those used for identification badges. Once the protective film is peeled off, the card is operational for 12 hours, or until they are exposed to one of the eight substances.
"Everything that's on this strip can be done with multiple tests and different types of devices. But this makes it handy, easy to carry and quick," said Jeff Borkowski, a HazMat technician with New York City's Fire Department.
"From what we see, they're going to be a very, very worthwhile tool that every hospital emergency room, police officer and firefighter should be equipped with."
Source: Safety Solutions Incorporated