Workers handle the end of a Battelle Critical Decontamination System run that decontaminated personal protective equipment. One of the systems is set to be in New Mexico for six months. Courtesy of Battelle.

A machine capable of decontaminating scarce personal protective equipment for reuse in the fight against COVID-19 is providing New Mexico’s front-line workers with free service — from Rio Rancho.

Workers in hospitals, nursing homes, clinics and other front-line medical occupations should begin saving unsoiled N95 masks for decontamination right away. Those are the disposable masks that have been in short supply during the crisis and therefore reserved for front-line workers because of their ability to filter out virus-sized particles.

The Battelle Critical Decontamination System arrived week before last at Santa Ana Star Center, where Battelle engineers began the assembly process and had it ready May 2.

The machine, which can decontaminate up to 83,000 N95 masks per day, will remain in New Mexico for six months. Battelle engineers will run the equipment at no cost to the state or to the agencies using it.

“This is great news for New Mexico and for all our front-line health-care workers,” said Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. “We now can make sure every one of them has a safe and effective N95 mask every day they come to work.”

“It’s a pretty fantastic deal,” Mayor Gregg Hull said Tuesday morning, during an interview on KKOB-AM.

Battelle, an Ohio-based research and development nonprofit, repurposed an older chemical decontamination technique to decontaminate N95 masks for reuse.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency contracted with Battelle for 60 of the machines and then accepted applications from the states to determine who got them based on need. New Mexico was awarded one April 22.

The machine uses concentrated vapor-phase hydrogen peroxide to decontaminate thousands of N95 respirators at a time in order for health-care and other front-line workers to safely reuse them.

The process removes all biological contaminants, including the viruses responsible for SARS and COVID-19. Masks can be decontaminated up to 20 times without degrading their performance.

To participate, hospitals, clinics, nursing homes and other facilities with health-care workers who wear N95 masks must enroll at Once enrolled, each institution will be responsible for collecting unsoiled used masks and making sure they are labeled with a facility code and name of the mask user.

Cardinal Health and FedEx will collect used masks from participating agencies and transport them to the Star Center, and then return the decontaminated masks for individual users.

The federal government estimated in March that the U.S. would need 3.5 billion N95 masks over the course of this pandemic year. The federal stockpile had about 1 percent of that number available.