DEFRA: Government Decontamination Service

23 May 2005

In January 2005 the Government announced that a Government Decontamination Service (GDS) would be created by the summer of 2005.  The GDS will advise local authorities and organisations on cleaning up the environment after a Chemical, Biological, Radiological or Nuclear (CBRN) incident.  An outline of the main functions of the GDS can be found on the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) website.

The Society responded to a public consultation on the role of the GDS.  The response was based on the report Making the UK safer: detecting and decontaminating biological and chemical agents, which the Society published in April 2004.

The key points made in the response are:  

  • Detection and decontamination are intrinsically linked.  The efficiency of the UKs response to a CBRN incident would be improved if one central organisation was responsible for coordinating all aspects of detection and decontamination.
  • Experimental research is urgently required to address data gaps on the efficacy of decontamination and detection equipment and procedures; the GDS should be involved in undertaking or commissioning this work.
  • Strong links must be built between the GDS and other Government Departments and bodies involved in responding to a CBRN incident to ensure that its work fits with the entire response.
  • The GDS should develop mechanisms to access the best academic and industrial scientific research into novel decontaminants and new detection technologies.
  • The GDS would be well placed to develop criteria for safe exposure levels and set threshold levels for different environments to be classified as safe for return to normal use.
  • The GDS must ensure that its remit is explicit and its customers are aware of where responsibility lies, to avoid confusion when an emergency situation occurs.