An atmospheric-pressure plasma decontamination/sterilization chamber is described. The apparatus is useful for decontaminating sensitive equipment and materials, such as electronics, optics and national treasures, which have been contaminated with chemical and/or biological warfare agents, such as anthrax, mustard blistering agent, VX nerve gas, and the like. There is currently no acceptable procedure for decontaminating such equipment. The apparatus may also be used for sterilization in the medical and food industries. Items to be decontaminated or sterilized are supported inside the chamber. Reactive gases containing atomic and metastable oxygen species are generated by an atmospheric-pressure plasma discharge in a He/O.sub.2 mixture and directed into the region of these items resulting in chemical reaction between the reactive species and organic substances. This reaction typically kills and/or neutralizes the contamination without damaging most equipment and materials. The plasma gases are recirculated through a closed-loop system to minimize the loss of helium and the possibility of escape of aerosolized harmful substances.
STATEMENT REGARDING FEDERAL RIGHTS
This invention was made with government support under Contract No. W-7405-ENG-36 awarded by the U.S. Department of Energy to The Regents of The University of California. The government has certain rights in the invention.