Kent Berg


The 2007 Environmental Conference, Oct. 24 at the Hyatt Regency Orange County Hotel in Garden Grove, Calif., opened to a full room Wednesday against the backdrop of a blood-orange sunrise and massive wildfires raging throughout Southern California.

Conference moderator Wade Miller of Mitigation Services, Inc.,  welcomed a diverse and enthusiastic crowd before introducing the morning’s featured speaker, National Institute of Decontamination Specialists director Kent Berg, addressing the issues of Crime & Trauma Scene Cleanup: Risks vs. Rewards.

“10 years ago, not many people had heard of crime and trauma scene recovery,” Berg said. “But in the past decade we kind of got the attention of the public, of the media. There’s a movie coming out called The Cleaner starring Samuel L. Jackson, we’re on the news, and right now the niche is fairly popular. So the public’s becoming aware that there are companies out there doing this, and now they’re expecting it. Ten years ago when you said, ‘I do crime scene cleaning,’ people’d look at you at say, ‘What?’ Now they’re calling up police departments and saying, ‘I need one of those guys.’


Wade Miller

Running the audience through a slide show of a suicide (“If you go to a suicide scene and you can’t find alcohol, you’re not looking hard enough.”) where the victim killed himself with a 12-gauge shotgun, Berg showed just how fully a room or other scene can be contaminated by blood, tissue and other residues, explaining in exacting detail the procedures, techniques and equipment employed when remediating such a scene.

“It’s not the money so much as it is the service you’re providing to people who are having the worst day of their lives. For us, it’s not done until it looks like it did before the event,” Berg said. “We want that family to not have to worry about hiring contractors, bringing in flooring people, bringing in painters, bringing in drywallers. You have to think, are they in an emotional state to do all that? So we try to get it taken care of as quickly as possible, ”

Myriad risks exist in the business, Berg said, such as toxic chemical residues; psychological trauma; bloodborne pathogens; improper PPE and inappropriate training. And then there’s bleach.

Bleach?

“The government is always pushing bleach. Why are they doing that? Well they do that because everybody has it, everybody knows bleach…the problem with bleach is it is probably the worst product you can use in this field,” Berg said. “Most disinfectants are inactivated in the presence of organic load, or proteins. What’s blood? I see firefighters on car wreck scenes, and the first thing they do when they get out of their truck is pour a bottle of full-strength bleach on the blood. Is it doing anything? Probably not. It’s certainly not penetrating the blood, there’s usually more blood than bleach. It’s just making a bigger mess.

“When do disinfectants work? They work when you use them on a pre-cleaned surface. That’s what all the labels say. Disinfectants don’t do well when there’s dirt on the surface, or there’s organic load. You have to remove that first, then treat the surface,” he said.

In the last 10 years, trauma and crime scene remediation has developed from an unrecognized niche to full-blown specialty, with all the standards, rules and regulations that come along with growth. It takes a special type of person to work in the business, Berg said, someone who is able to deal with people under strenuous circumstances, a self-starter who takes the initiative, who gleans emotional satisfaction in helping others during a crisis.

And who has a strong stomach.

The 2007 Environmental Conference wraps up today; the RIA Fall Conference Series continues through Frida. Check back often for more updates from the show.