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Defence R&D Canada / O'Dell Engineering Ltd.
Successful development and transfer of a Reactive Skin Decontaminant Lotion (RSDL) that protects the skin against chemical warfare agents.
Andrew Burczyk and J. Garfield Purdon
Defence Research Establishment Suffield, Defence R&D Canada
Philip C. O'Dell
O'Dell Engineering Ltd.
Already heralded for its scientific excellence, researchers with Defence R&D Canada (DRDC), an agency within the Department of National Defence, worked relentlessly until they discovered an antidote to one of the most invidious weapons in the history of modern-day warfare. For more than two decades, a series of DRDC researchers struggled to develop a skin decontaminant powerful enough to defend Canadian Armed Forces personnel against deadly chemical warfare and biological agents, some of which can kill within minutes of skin contact. By the time Canadians were deployed to the Gulf War in 1991, they were able to take with them the first bottles of a product called Reactive Skin Decontaminant Lotion (RSDL), a revolutionary advance in the field of personal decontamination and protection against super-toxic materials. Later an improved pouch with a self-contained applicator was fielded. A result of perseverance by more than 20 DRDC researchers that defied all odds, the lotion not only neutralized but also safely destroyed chemical agents as opposed to merely absorbing the material that remained on the surface of the skin.
The length of time it took to develop RSDL in many ways reflects the degree of difficulty encountered as well as the complexities of the problem it addressed. Because of the number of variations and extreme toxicity of chemical warfare agents, the lotion needed to be versatile, effective under varied field conditions yet benign enough to use on skin, in and around the eyes and safe if carried into wounds. The devastating speed of certain chemical agents meant that pouches and foam applicators had to be tailored for individual use, since there would be no time in battle situations to evacuate the victims to medical facilities. The lotion not only met but also exceeded those demands, and was proven to be safe following inadvertent application in the eyes and on sensitive mucus membranes. Documented in more than 125 publications and reports and granted 11 patents in Europe and North America, RSDL was ready by 1995 to be commercialized. Even then, there were challenges to overcome. O'Dell Engineering Ltd., a Cambridge Ontario-based company set up specifically to produce and market the lotion, spent another five years transforming a laboratory technology to an industrial setting as well as refining the active molecules and the applicator delivery system to pass rigorous regulatory reviews and repeatability trials.
Marketing such a breakthrough decontaminant was perhaps the easiest phase of the enterprise. With additional civilian and counter-terrorist applications and projected sales of more than $26 million over the next five years, RSDL was described by an American magazine in 1999 as the "Noxzema for the Next Century." Awaiting Health Canada and FDA (USA) regulatory approval, the wholly Canadian product was ranked by the U.S. Navy as its first priority for acquisition under the Foreign Comparative Test program and was purchased by the Australian Army for the 2001 Sydney Olympics. Other customers include the Irish and Netherlands armies as well as the international Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and a number of high-risk individuals.
From left to right: Eric Fresque, Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC); Andrew Burczyk, Defence Research Establishment Suffield, DRDC; Philip O'Dell, O'Dell Engineering Limited; Garfield Purdon, Defence Research Establishment Suffield, DRDC; and Brian Davidson, VWR Canlab (sponsor).