Fentanyl Exposure and Remediation: Operational Resource

Fentanyl Exposure

Onsite property management staff may encounter a range of risks when entering resident’s homes, and among them is the potential for accidental exposures to illicit drugs, especially fentanyl. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid that is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent. Fentanyl and other synthetic opioids have become the most common drugs involved in overdose deaths.

image of chemistry equipment and white powder in a small bag

An August 2020 article published in Harm Reduction Journal describes how, with the relatively recent surge in fentanyl-related overdoses, the fear of accidental exposures to fentanyl has emerged as a new occupational safety concern among emergency responders. In 2017 alone, over 150 reports describing first responder exposures to opioids appeared in the media. Yet, the article cautions:

"Concerns about fentanyl exposure continue to spread despite a clear consensus from medical experts that overdose from incidental skin contact is a medical impossibility. Indeed, this claim has been officially debunked by the American College of Medical Toxicology [ACMT] and the American Academy of Clinical Toxicology [AACT] and the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health [NIOSH] with the CDC."

The ACMT and AACT include the following recommendations in Clinical Toxicology for emergency responders:

Dermal precautions

  • Incidental dermal absorption is very unlikely to cause opioid toxicity. For routine handling of drug, nitrile gloves provide sufficient dermal protection.
  • Incidental dermal exposures should immediately be washed with water. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers should not be used for decontamination as they do not wash opioids off the skin and may increase dermal drug absorption.

Respiratory precautions

  • In the unusual circumstance of significant airborne suspension of powdered opioids, a properly fitted N95 respirator or P100 mask is likely to provide reasonable respiratory protection.

Mucous membrane/splash exposure

  • OSHA-approved protection for eyes and face should be used during tasks where there exists possibility of a splash to the face.

Current guidance is available from NIOSH for preventing emergency responders’ exposures to illicit drugs, including fentanyl.  Onsite property teams are advised to view these full articles as well as consult their local authorities for additional information and guidance.

Fentanyl Remediation

A November 2022 article posted by the U.S. Environment Protection Agency (EPA) describes how there is limited information available about methods in real-world scenarios to degrade fentanyl, or break it down so it is no longer harmful, to remediate fentanyl-contaminated areas, or to remove fentanyl altogether. Therefore, EPA researchers tested the decontamination of building materials contaminated with fentanyl powder:

"They conducted tests that represented real-life cleanup efforts by using practical applied amounts of decontamination solutions and realistic exposure times onto common building materials and examined the efficacy of fentanyl degradation of various decontaminants and active ingredients. EPA researchers tested multiple off-the-shelf, easy-to-access products for their ability to degrade fentanyl on common materials, such as glass, plastics, laminate, and painted drywall. After spraying several decontaminants and leaving them on the surface for the one-hour contact time, EPA researchers determined that the peracetic acid or activated hydrogen peroxide, and acidified hypochlorite containing solution provided the most effective cleanup of fentanyl contaminated surfaces."

Onsite property teams are advised to view this full article as well as consult their local authorities for additional information and guidance.


Disclaimer: This information was provided by ACMT, AACT, NIOSH and EPA. The National Apartment Association (NAA) assumes no liability with respect to the use of, or for damages resulting from the use of, any information, method or process disclosed in this documentation. Laws, regulations and standards pertaining to the topics discussed in this documentation may differ for your states or cities. NAA recommends that you consult your local authorities for additional information and guidance.