Joe Don Buckner  /  AP
Seshadri Ramkumar, left, a professor at Texas Tech shows a new type of decontamination wipe to Congressman Randy Neugebauer. The cloth is designed for use against chemical and biological warfare.
updated 4/5/2005 9:39:07 AM ET 2005-04-05T13:39:07

Cotton, the fabric of your life, could soon have the potential to save it.  Scientists at Texas Tech University's Institute of Environmental and Human Health on Monday unveiled a new composite cotton fabric they say will protect against biological and chemical agents.

The fabric, developed with the U.S. Department of Defense in mind, also brings a fresh market to cotton farmers in West Texas, the nation's largest producing region.  "We are the first to bring cotton into the national defense arena," said Seshadri Ramkumar, the researcher at the institute who developed the fabric.  "This is a big thing."

The nonwoven fabric is "exactly" the type the defense department placed in its decontamination and science technology strategy, he said.  A thin piece of carbon is encased on either side by the nonwoven cotton.

The fabric can be used as a wipe to remove dangerous contaminants from a variety of surfaces, including human skin and intricate equipment on fighter planes.  The fabric is lightweight, soft, flexible and able to be draped over unusually shaped objects.

The material neutralizes and absorbs toxic chemicals used in chemical warfare and pesticides.  Another use could be the inner lining of a protective suit.

"This is a win-win day for Texas Tech," said U.S. Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Lubbock, who attended a news conference announcing the technology and its licensing to a Texas company.  "It's a win-win day for the American people."

Now, the military uses a cloth made from carbon, which leaves skin and other surfaces dirty.

The fabric passed tests for bacteria, yeast, fungus and mold but has not been tested for anthrax and other potentially deadly biological agents.  But enzymes specifically targeting a particular agent can be applied.  "Once it has been tested for nerve agents, sure it can" save lives, Ramkumar said.

Cotton watchers in West Texas said the fabric presents an exciting avenue for area producers.  "It's an opportunity to add value to our locally grown fiber and add a new income source to our area economy," said Roger Haldenby, a spokesman for the Plains Cotton Growers, which serves a 41-county region.

In recent days, the university licensed a Waco-based company, Hobbs Bonded Fibers, to market the fabric.  Carey Hobbs, the company's chief executive officer, said negotiations with government officials could begin within a couple of months.  "This is something that could be very meaningful and contribute to the country's mission right now," Hobbs said.  "This is an opportunity you look for your whole business life."

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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