With the increased level of dust and smoke due to pollution and wildfire, recently we have come across many individuals who have been asking us questions regarding adequate respiratory protection to help them breathe better and more information on respirator mask for smoke hence we have answered below a few frequently asked questions (FAQs)
Following are a few Frequently asked questions (FAQs) on Smoke that we have answered to help you understand better about the health hazards associated with Smoke and how the proper use of respirators can eliminate this hazard.
Smoke caused by wildfires is a mixture of fine particles and gases that comes from burning plants, materials and tress. Not just that, many other chemicals can also be released when this wildfire reaches man-made structures making the situation worse hence the smoke produced can irritate your respiratory system as well as eyes. This can be a life threat to people who have chronic lung and heart disease as this will affect their breathing and oxygen intake.
Many people seem to be having the misconception that tying a wet cloth around your mouth will help in protecting your lungs from the smoke, but that is not true as all it can do is to help relieve the air dryness.
If there is an event of smoke, then the facepiece needs to be able to filter very fine particles which will be as small as 0.3 to 0.1 microns, invisible to human eyes hence the mask needs to fit well to create a tight seal around the wearer's face so that there is no leak.
Masks made of paper, dust masks or surgical masks are only effective to trap large particles, the ones you can see and they do not even fit the wearer perfectly as they are not designed for that hence they will not give you adequate protection in an event of smoke and cannot stop smoke from reaching your lungs causing damages.
There are Air Purifying Respirators (APR) available in the market which is certified by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) that is appropriate to protect you from the smoke. They are rates as N, R, or P with an efficiency marking of 95, 99 or 100% against very fine particles.
Air purifying Respirators such as an N95 respirator or a P100 filter used with a reusable facepiece will be effective to remove particulate caused due to wildfire smoke, but they cannot filter gases such as carbon monoxide which is hazardous. These respirators also do not supply oxygen to help in breathing and do not protect against the super-heated gases which becomes a major concern for workers who are fighting fires. Hence, in such conditions, you can use Supplied Air Respirators (SARs) or Powered Air-purifying Respirators (PAPR) to send a continuous stream of air into the facepiece at all times for normal breathing. The important thing to note is that for the respirator to be effective, the user must be clean shaved or else the seal may break, and the mask may not be effective.
A single strap respirator is ineffective as the facepiece cannot be held in position with a single strap hence N95 respirator mask for smoke comes with two straps and yes you do need to use both the straps so that the mask is tightly fitted in your face creating a proper seal.
Getting fit-tested is ideal to ensure maximum safety, but it is only a requirement enforced on the employees to protect them from any hazard in the workplace. You can do self-fit-test of the half face and full face tight-fitted mask by closing the filter opening with your palm and then breathing normally, if there is any air entering the mask then it means that there is a leakage and you need to change the mask or the fit is not tight and you may need to choose a different mask size. The majority of the people use medium-sized masks and even if you use a large mask, you will fit in a medium mask as well. If you have been using the large size of hats or helmets, then you will be more comfortable in a large-sized mask, just make sure that the mask is tightly fitting you without any seal breaks.
A respirator can be bought from any hardware store easily, you just need to ensure that the product you purchased is approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). You can check this by checking if the product has a NIOSH logo on it. If you are buying a mask for a child, then you will not find NIOSH approved mask as they do not approve masks intended for children.
If you are facing eye irritation due to smoke, then you can wear a full facepiece respirator which covers your eyes, nose, and mouth hence you ill be protected from smoke overall but if you wish to use a disposable mask or half-mask respirator then you can use it in conjunction with a sealed goggle which has a clear lens with anti-fog so that you get a clear vision and reduced eye irritation.
Respirator mask for smoke comes in 3 different sizes which are small, medium and large. While 80% of people use a medium-sized mask, 15% may need a size bigger and use a large-sized mask and mostly children use the small-sized mask that comes to about 5% of the users. Hence, you can use the small disposable respirator mask for mold to protect your child from the harmful effects of smoke. Though the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) does not approve any mask intended for children, hence the effectiveness cannot be guaranteed.
It is difficult to just tell an exact timeframe as the airborne concentration of particulate affects the life of the respirator, the lesser the particulate concentration, the longer the mask will last and vice versa. There is no defined way of knowing when you need to change the disposable respirator, the only way you can make that judgment is by evaluating if you are finding it hard to breathe through the mask, if yes, then get a replacement. Another reason you may need to change the respirator is if it's physically damaged like its strap is broken or there is a hole in it, then it becomes ineffective and you need to replace it immediately.