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Bioenvironmental helps maintain Airmen readiness

Airman 1st Class Ants Vahk and Airman Antione Van, both 92nd Aerospace Medicine Squadron bioenvironmental engineers, prepare air sampling pumps May 25, 2016 at the Grand Coulee Damn shooting range. The air samples collected were of copper dust, fumes and lead during a heavy weapons firing. “We’ll do an air sampling, send the samples to the lab and then wait for the results to let us know if we need to take any further precautions,” Vahk said.  (Courtesy Photo)

Airman 1st Class Ants Vahk and Airman Antione Van, both 92nd Aerospace Medicine Squadron bioenvironmental engineers, prepare air sampling pumps May 25, 2016 at the Grand Coulee Damn, Wash. shooting range. The air samples collected were of copper dust, fumes and lead during a heavy weapons firing. “We’ll do an air sampling, send the samples to the lab and then wait for the results to let us know if we need to take any further precautions,” Vahk said. (Courtesy Photo)

FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- On most deployments, Airmen are required take a gas mask with them. Many will push the gas mask knowledge to the back of their mind and think, "I'm never going to use this."

However, it's important for Airmen to get a gas mask test. It will not only protect them from chemical warfare, it may also save their life.

"We start the test by analyzing the face, finding the correct size and have the member properly put it on and then conduct a seal check to make sure particles can't get inside" said Airman 1st Class Ants Vahk, 92nd Aerospace Medicine bioenvironmental engineer. "If the deployed location gets hit by a chemical warfare agent, the member will be prepared to operate the mask."

Along with gas masks, the bioenvironmental shop also conducts respirator fit tests. Respirators are especially important in areas where spray paint, copper, lead and other chemicals can be potentially harmful or cause a reproductive hazard.

"If Airmen are working around chemicals and we haven't tested the area, we'll give them a respirator as a precaution," Vahk said. "We'll do an air sampling, send the samples to the lab and then wait for the results to let us know if we need to take any further precautions."  

Areas that require respirators or other personal protective equipment also require health risk assessments conducted on all the individuals working in that area. There are three different health risk assessment categories: category one is high risk and happens every year, category two is medium risk and occurs every two years and category three is assessed when needed.

"We check a lot of shops who conduct painting, sanding and work with chemicals," Vahk said. "We look over their processes, PPE and we make sure their Hazardous Communication program is up-to-date."

After Bioenvironmental assesses an area, they write up what needs to be fixed and give each area 30 days to repair and respond with any problems marked on the assessment.

"After we finish the assessment, we make sure the members are being protected and not being overexposed to chemicals," Vahk explained.

Bioenvironmental also samples the drinking water every week in different areas on base. According to Vahk, samples are sent to the lab to continue to make sure the drinking water is good.

Ventilation surveys are conducted in the sterilization rooms in the dental clinic to ensure the ventilation is free of bacteria and that there is positive air pressure.

"Our impact isn't seen now, it will be seen later down the road," Vahk said. "We're making you wear this now, so that five or 10 years down the road, you won't develop lung cancer."