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June 2011    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 37, No. 6   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Disinfecting Your BCD

from the June, 2011 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Guidelines issued by Britain's Health & Safety Executive on Cleaning of Diving Equipment (HSE) provide guidance on minimizing risks from microorganisms that can be present in BCDs as well as regulator mouthpieces and rebreathers.

Storing diving equipment in a damp condition creates an environment in which fungi, yeasts, bacteria and viruses can multiply rapidly, the HSE states. "Fungi are one of the most likely contaminants, and these can produce large quantities of spores. Inhalation of these spores can cause an allergic reaction in the lungs, producing potentially lifethreatening conditions, particularly in those individuals who may be predisposed to allergy."

The HSE's recommendation is to thoroughly clean and dry equipment, particularly those parts that might allow a direct path to your lungs. After a day's diving, the minimum recommended cleaning regimen is thorough rinsing of these surfaces with clean drinkable water to flush away minute deposits that could act as nutrients for microbial growth, followed by complete drying. (One popular technique is to partially inflate the bladder and hang the BCD upside down in the shade so the rinse water accumulates in the inflator hose. Then open the inflator mouthpiece and let the water drain out. Repeat one or two more times. Check your owner's manual for more instructions.) If water quality is in doubt, use sterile, boiled or bottled water for rinsing.

After drying, store in a dry, clean environment - - ideally, an enclosed room with circulating air and minimum exposure to airborne contaminants. As the microbial agents can be "opportunistic and tenacious," consider periodic disinfection, particularly of shared equipment.

HSE specialist diving inspector Steve Field noted, "While it's important that the disinfectant used is effective and safe, it's also important that it doesn't damage the equipment. Manufacturers employ a wide range of materials in their products and they are therefore best-placed to advise on what disinfectant is compatible with the materials they use."

Manufacturers' instructions should be followed carefully, because inhaling unrinsed disinfectant can itself pose a health hazard. Preferably, the disinfectant should be effective against the most resistant microorganism - - in this context, Mycobacterium tuberculosis (TB).

Mike Firth maintained that he and his friends had always rinsed their BCDs with a sodium hypochlorite sterilizing fluid. But Professor Denning feels that while sodium hypochlorite "is likely to have an impact on the aspergillus fungus, it won't necessarily kill it."

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