Janitorial professionals have seen and cleaned it all, but their worst horror stories are just a regular Tuesday for crime scene cleanup professionals. These brave souls enter scenes of horrible devastation and return them to their original state. They are trained to deal with, transport, and dispose of blood and body tissues. They are always on call, but mostly, they walk a fine line between compassion for their clients and a healthy detachment that lets them get the job done.
Crime scene cleanup—also known as crime and trauma scene decontamination (CTS decon)—is a larger industry than you might originally expect. IBIS World estimates that the nation's 612 businesses pull in $358 million in annual revenue. Often, insurance companies or victims' funds pay for most of the services.
Crime scene cleanup happens after the police have gathered all of their evidence and the coroner has left with the body. In the case of a violent death, there may be quite a bit of blood and tissue dispersed throughout the scene. Cleanup crew is required to receive special training in biohazardous material treatment, as these fluids and tissues may contain dangerous pathogens, according to an OSHA standard interpretation.
Not all calls to a CTS decon specialist are for crime scene cleanup. Often, they are called to clean up after an unattended death—a person who dies alone and is discovered some time later. This situation comes with a different set of cleaning challenges, revolving around insect and odor removal. CTS decon specialists also clean up methamphetamine labs. The poisons used to make methamphetamine permeate everything porous and can cause blindness and lung, liver, and kidney damage, according to the EPA.
The job of a CTS decon specialist is to get the scene back to its original state. It's hard, physical work that can take anywhere from 10 hours to two days, according to the Atlantic. Thoroughness is the hallmark of a good CTS decon specialist. Removing every last bit of contamination requires patience and knowledge. While OSHA gives some guidance, the American Bio-Recovery Association provides training and certification.
The Emotional Lift
CTS decon specialists are often former EMTs, nurses, or firefighters or people from the construction industry. Along with being physically fit, immunized against hepatitis B, and trained in bloodborne pathogens, these specialists need to provide care, sensitivity, and privacy to their clients while restoring a scene to its original state.
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Amy Milshtein covers design, facility management and business topics for a variety of trade publications and consumer magazines.
Her work has won several awards, most recently a regional silver Azbee Award of Excellence.
She lives in Portland, OR with her family and Clyde, a 15-lb tabby cat. Once an avid hiker, these days she finds herself on the less-challenging -but-still-exciting 'creaky knees' trails.