Selecting protective clothing for large scale environmental and emergency clean-ups

Environmental disasters and emergencies can be either man-made or the result of natural phenomena but in either case they almost invariably necessitate a rapid and effective response if the human and environmental impacts are to be mitigated and rectified. Failure to be ready and a failure to respond can have serious consequences which are often of a life-threatening nature and usually accompanied by negative long-term ecological outcomes. 


The personal protection equipment (PPE) requirement for environmental clean-up operations will always involve a protective 'ensemble'. This comprises a number of closely matched components, such as coveralls, gloves, footwear and headgear, which together must provide the necessary wearer protection whilst maintaining a high degree of comfort, good levels of vision, adequate visibility, satisfactory communications, reasonable physical agility and acceptable manual dexterity. Great care is necessary in selecting these different ensemble components to ensure that they not only provide suitable protection in their own right but that they function together as an effective composite ensemble. Remember: no chain is stronger than its weakest link.


The sheer diversity of potential environmental mishaps and disasters makes it virtually impossible for emergency planners and responders to predict their scale, frequency or form in advance. They must simply endeavour to be prepared for almost any reasonably foreseeable occurrence from small-scale chemical spillages to worst-case disaster scenarios.

When faced with the unexpected there is usually no time for a full risk analysis, time is invariably of the essence and a successful incident response is contingent on being thoroughly prepared. This means that when it comes to selecting the optimum personal protective equipment for environmental hazard zones, consideration must be given to a wide range of unforeseeable dangers that could be faced by emergency response crews and subsequent clean-up squads. In such cases all the personnel involved must be adequately protected against exposure to common or predictable hazards, whether these risks are visually apparent or not. For example a building collapse might result in a known risk of exposure to potentially harmful mineral fibres and toxic dusts but at the same time could conceivably create the possibility of exposures to a much wider range of hazmats such as fuel oils, chemicals, lead and even infectious pathogens. When planning PPE for such ill-defined risks it is necessary to not only take account of any known similar past events but also to anticipate worst case scenarios so that lesser events can be easily dealt with.

The same principle of being prepared for the unexpected also applies to more regular, non-crisis, situations such as the assessment and treatment of contaminated land or the remediation of defunct industrial installations. The only exception to this 'prepare for the worst' approach might be where the exact type and level of hazard/contamination is already known, tested and recorded following a full risk analysis of the site concerned.


User comfort is a major consideration when it comes to choosing the optimum PPE for emergency clean-ups and environmental remediation exercises. The dangers of heat stress, a loss of productivity and a tendency for uncomfortable garments and equipment to be worn incorrectly are crucial considerations which must always be factored into garment selection. When it comes to large scale environmental and emergency clean-ups a high degree of user comfort is a particular consideration since, due to factors such as the scale of operation, the often remote and inaccessible locations, the intensity of work and the need for role adaptability, workers might find themselves wearing PPE for extended periods of working time. For these types of application, specifiers can consider  the new Tyvek® 800J coverall from DuPont which has been designed to offer an optimum combination of multi-threat protection and comfort for prolonged wear under a wide range of operating conditions.


In the workplace environment employers can normally maintain a much higher degree of control than can be exercised in emergency and in remote field locations. In off-site circumstances it can be impossible to eliminate the hazard and in these circumstances the importance of training and good equipment becomes paramount. Unsupervised personnel particularly in dangerous or stressful situations can easily step outside the bounds of prudence and procedure.


Poor availability, poor condition and poor protection are just some of the problems with relying on conventional protective coveralls for large scale clean-ups. It can be very difficult to manage the hazard risks to personnel when there is a large number of operatives in the field, sometimes for extended periods over many weeks or months. This explains the popularity of lower cost disposable and 'single use' protective garments in environmental and emergency clean-up scenarios and why they can be preferable to their reusable and launderable equivalents. Not only do disposable coveralls have obvious advantages in extremely dirty environments, they also offer ease-of-use and personal hygiene benefits while eliminating the need for costly, and often impractical, decontamination and maintenance regimes. This is a particular benefit in larger-scale environmental remediation programmes where there may be a need to provide large numbers of volunteers and temporary workers with high-quality protection at an affordable cost.



The optimum choice of PPE requires sound judgement, a sound understanding of hazards faced and a detailed knowledge of personal protection principles, technical standards and equipment performance. It's not enough to rely on choosing protective coveralls (or any other PPE) from a web-site or a piece of literature. The optimum and safest choice of personal protection requires sound judgement, a detailed understanding of risk and a comprehensive knowledge of personal protection principles, technical standards and equipment performance.


DuPont has a comprehensive range of protective garments and accessories suitable for chemical handling operations including the highly-featured Tychem® 4000S designed for maximum comfort in hazardous environments and  the exciting new Tyvek® 800J coverall which combines breathability and resistance to pressurised jets of water-based chemicals in a high comfort Type 3 limited-use garment.


A global leader in personal protection, DuPont has been addressing the world’s safety needs with the best in technologies and innovations for over 40 years. DuPont Personal Protection offers comprehensive support in protective garment selection and chemical risk assessment as well as training on the use of protective clothing. A  customised selection service is available for all Tyvek® and Tychem® protective clothing products.



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