When time is short and resources are limited, this hand-held device brings the lab to the scene.

Point and Click

The American landscape was forever changed by the events of 9/11.With the anthrax mail scare that followed shortly afterward, one company found itself in a unique position to help the emergency responder community with a portable chemical identifier called HazMatID™.

Several years and many technological advances later, Danbury, Conn.-based Smiths Detection unveiled its updated model, the HazMatID Ranger, in late May at the International Association of Fire Chiefs’ 2008 exhibit.Aaron Gagnon, assistant director of Product Management, said many of the changes in the Ranger model have been made to improve its transportability. “What we’ve done is taken the HazMatID and we’ve miniaturized the electronics and some other things, and we’ve created the HazMatID Ranger, which allows for one-hand operation and is controlled via Bluetooth by a PDA,” he said. Its dramatic drop in product weight from 23 to 6.5 pounds further served to broaden the product’s portability, Gagnon added. “It allows the responder to go and run many samples over great distances, and they can fit in tighter spaces if they need to.”

Gagnon said the combination of an attached strap with a one-handed, trigger-type design further contributes to its ease of use. “You can actually drive the software by squeezing a trigger similar to a cordless drill,” he said. “So it has a very robust feel, very industrial feel that our customers really have gotten to liking.”

Perhaps the most significant improvement is the device’s detachable, rugged PDA; the previous model had an integrated computer that was built into the system. This Bluetooth wireless-enabled PDA is especially helpful for hazmat personnel, Gagnon noted. “The ability to remove the PDA is important, because usually these users will go in with two people, and they have what we call a ‘dirty person’ and a ‘clean person,’” he said. “One person may have the PDA in their hand, while the other person has the HazMatID Ranger and is going to identify the sample. So they can remotely control it within the limits of Bluetooth.”

Crunching the Numbers
With all of the changes made to the device, one feature remains constant: its extensive database. The HazMatID Ranger draws from a library of more than 32,000 materials, which includes suspicious white powders,WMDs, explosives, toxic chemicals, and more.

“The large databases we have are all owned by Smiths Detection. We may have collaborations with large chemical plants or we have collected the data ourselves, but all of the data is run on our very own system. These are not just large databases purchased in. We’ve actually taken, run, and quality-checked all the data on our own instrumentation,” Gagnon said, adding that the only exception to this is when limitations force them to seek collaborations. “For example, if we wanted to create a narcotics library or an explosives library or a chemical warfare agent library, we can’t run those materials in our own labs, so we’ll actually have collaboration with the government or other agencies that may have these materials in their possession.”

As an additional safety net, in the event a material cannot be identified or the user simply wants confirmation of a reading, the system is supported by ReachBack™, a 24-hour, 365-days-a-year technical assistance support program.“If the material is not identified, you can call a Ph.D.-level chemist and they can help you further analyze the data, or you can actually use the chemist to confirm what the emergency responder has actually gotten in the field,” he said.

Identifying Chemicals and Components
Of course, good data is impossible without good sampling. The HazMatID Ranger uses Fourier Transform Infrared technology, which has been around for decades and is used in laboratories, pharmaceuticals, forensics, and more.When its diamond sensor tip touches a sample, the device will provide both spectral results and a list of probable substances to help identify chemicals and also components in mixtures. “Not only can you use it in an emergency response situation, but you can use this type of technology to confirm a certain chemical,” Gagnon said. “So if you get a shipment of material at a chemical plant and you want to confirm that it is what it says it is in that label, you can use the HazMatID Ranger for that.”

At the end of the day, Gagnon noted, the device is designed to be as easy to clean as it is to use. “The HazMatID system, not including the PDA, can be submerged into a bucket of bleach for an extended period of time; usually, the standard operating procedure is 30 minutes,” he said. “That’s done to clean the system so if it comes in contact with something nasty— whether it’s a biological agent, a chemical warfare agent, or something along those lines—the first responder is going to want to know that the system is clean.”

This article originally appeared in the September 2008 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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