It’s far too common, unfortunately, for the nightly news to report another violent crime resulting in hostages or lockdowns. But after the emergency is quelled, the responders pull away, and the cameras leave, a less-obvious danger can still linger: In the wake of violence and the force needed to stop it, homeowners often face damaged property and belongings. When physical injuries have occurred, there is a potential for hazardous bodily fluids and if tear gas is involved, contamination from gas residue throughout. While the imminent danger may be over, more remains.
The overwhelming emotional impact of a tragedy leaves homeowners ill-equipped to deal with the trauma and crime scene cleanup. Until recently, specialized cleaning companies that had the training and qualifications to remediate these conditions did not exist. Homeowners found themselves left with biohazard and biochemical hazards including bodily fluids and odor. Tear gas contamination is especially problematic, as the dangerous residue will affect every wall, floor, furnishing, and possession in the release area. It’s too much for an already traumatized homeowner to contend with, and can only be safely remediated by professionals.
Insurance Restoration Specialists, Inc. (IRS) was recently called in following a hostage crisis that, while safely resolved, left the home significantly impacted from tear gas and SWAT breech damages. IRS dispatched its American Bio Recovery Association (ABRA) Certified Crime and Trauma Scene Cleanup team to take on the task of decontaminating the dwelling and salvageable contents.
“This level of cleanup should never be a DIY project. You have to take into consideration the hazardous conditions on site,” says Thomas Licker, CEICR/CBRM/HACCP. As the Division Manager for IRS’ Infection Control Technologies division, Licker oversees the company’s crime and trauma teams. “Crime and trauma mitigation deals with some of the most dangerous tasks and variables of all disaster response. They include CS tear gas, body fluids/parts, illicit narcotics, hazardous materials, and hoarding. Our technicians are required to maintain the proper OSHA training to do this type of work in accordance with the Code of Federal Regulations for Hazardous Materials and Bloodborne Pathogens.” Additional instruction and third-party certification for this type of work can be found through the American Bio Recovery Association.
Tear gas remediation requires a proper exposure control plan. Even when wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) properly, tear gas residue that can exist on the exterior of the suit can accidentally cause skin irritation if there is a breach in the coverall or the wearer is not properly trained in proper donning/doffing procedures.
In the recent IRS tear gas contamination response, the dwelling was addressed from the top down with a high priority on ventilation. During the cleaning process, specialty vacuums were used to remove residual dust with negatively-pressured HEPA filtered air to contain and scrub airborne particulates. Exposed insulation was removed. Several applications of specialized chemicals with a high pH were used to decontaminate the surfaces. The team performed rapid indoor environment decontamination using its SteraMist system to break down residual chemicals and odor.
After the decontamination process, the property was sampled by a Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH) to confirm that the property could be safely reconstructed. IRS’ Restoration Division completed the repairs and brought the home back into pre-loss condition.
The sole purpose for the use of tear gas and riot control agents is to produce immediate discomfort and eye closure to render the victim incapable of fighting or resisting. One variant, CS gas, exhibits the least toxicity to the general public than others and is therefore the most commonly used product in law enforcement actions. The crime scene cleanup can be very time consuming and tedious, especially for contents. Sometimes the cost of mitigating contents exceeds their value and must be disposed of. Soft contents such as clothing and bedding can be rescued by specialized restoration drycleaners, but samples after cleaning are necessary to prove their efficacy.
Crime scene cleanup is costly because it is tedious and extremely labor intensive. Tear gas residue can get into every nook and cranny and requires extremely detailed cleaning techniques. Training requirements include hazard communication, OSHA 40HR HAZWOPER, respirator fit testing, and medical evaluations. The cleaning process itself is extensive. It begins with air cleaning by ventilating the home with HEPA air filtration devices. During the initial cleaning, technicians perform a detailed HEPA vacuuming of all surfaces and contents, and then follow with a wet wipe-down with a special agent to clean and neutralize the contaminant. The property is then HEPA vacuumed again, followed by a final treatment of the air and surfaces with neutralizing agents.
Insurance coverage can be questionable for crime scene cleanups. Many policies have exclusions for damages from law enforcement by government authority, and some have pollution exclusions. However, according to a related article in property casualty 360, the destruction done by the police incidental to the capture of a criminal may be covered. For instance, if bullet or tear gas projectile was used to control the criminal and caused physical damage, it is covered by most policies. However, the remediation of tear gas residual itself may be considered a pollutant and excluded under some policies. If the contents or property itself posed the danger that required further damage by emergency services, perhaps breaking a door down to help a trapped person, it likely won’t be covered.
Facing the scene of a crime or trauma in a home only compounds the emotional suffering of a homeowner, and puts them at additional physical risk. An experienced, qualified remediation company will be able to efficiently and effectively eliminate the physical dangers and work with homeowners to help manage the process and communicate with insurance providers.
About Infection Control Technologies & IRS Insurance Restoration Specialists
Infection Control Technologies, (ICT) a division of Insurance Restoration Specialists, Inc. (IRS) is one of the nation’s leading Building Hygiene contractors. ICT provides Facility Hygiene Services and Emergency Decontamination for some of the nation’s most respected real estate and Risk Management Professionals, Health Care, Municipalities, Institutions, Food Safety, Transportation, and government organizations.