Respirator Masks

Respirator masks are available in different forms to accommodate different environmental conditions, and to prevent inhalation of dangerous particulates and infectious airborne microorganisms. For example, the simplest type of respirator is the particulate mask that protects the nose and mouth from heavy amounts of dust that could significantly coat the lungs and cause serious breathing difficulties.

3M Particulate Respirator Mask

These masks would benefit those who are exposed to disasters that cause massive destruction to large buildings in heavily populated urban areas. Earthquakes or terrorists attacks such as the one that obliterated the Twin Towers in New York City in 2001 are examples of catastrophes demanding protection of the respiratory system by a particulate mask.

The N-95 Mask

Other respirator masks called “N-95” masks are designed to filter out infectious airborne pathogens that cause serious diseases. Medical personnel working around people ill with viral or bacterial infections wear these masks made of three layers of microfibers that have been electrostatically enhanced to eliminate 95 percent of infectious microbes from penetrating a person's airway.

The innermost layer of an N-95 mask is fashioned from hypoallergenic, polypropylene cloth for added security and comfort. Between the first and third layer lies a “blown-web” fabric filter that also prevents nearly 95 percent of pathogens from entering a person's nose or mouth. Additionally, an outer layer made of active carbon material blocks out dangerous vapors.

All respirator masks that are stamped with the “N95” mark have been certified by the U.S. NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Hazard), which is part of the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) based in Atlanta, Georgia. NIOSH performs research and oversees the prevention of injuries and illnesses resulting from work-related conditions existing in most U.S. work places.

Guidelines used by NIOSH for rating filter masks include the following:

  • N99—not oil resistant, filters about 99 percent of airborne particles
  • N100-not oil resistant, filters nearly 100 percent of airborne particles
  • R95—oil resistant, filters 95 percent or more of airborne particles
  • R99—oil resistant, filters 99 percent or more of airborne particles

Difference Between Surgical Masks and Filter Masks

NIOSH N95 Respirator Dust Mask

Although surgical masks and respirator masks resemble each other in appearance, they present a major contrast to each other in regards to protecting the mouth and nose from potentially harmful fluids. While filter masks such as N95s protect users from airborne particulates, surgical masks are meant to protect fluids from splashing onto the face.

Bodily fluids like blood, saliva and infectious pus contain vast amounts of viruses and bacteria that can produce sickness if allowed to enter another person's body via nose, mouth or skin abrasion. Materials used to make surgical masks do not protect users from inhaling airborne pathogens.

Filter Masks and Nuclear Fallout

CLEARANCE ITEM: N95 Health Care Particulate Respirator and Surgical Mask

If a nuclear detonation occurred producing substantial fallout that cannot be avoided, wearing N95 or N100 masks can help reduce the amount of radioactive particulates inhaled. If fully inhaled without any type of protection, these fallout particulates will enter the body and begin deteriorating internal organs immediately. Gas masks that possess a nuclear, biological and chemical rating (NBC rating) offer the best protection when venturing into an area replete with nuclear fallout.

N95 filter masks are available at Be Prepared in convenient boxes containing 10 masks each. These “valved” N95 masks are equipped with an exhalation valve that makes it easier to speak and breathe while wearing them. Designed to fit facial contours and approved by NIOSH, N95 masks protect against airborne particulates and meet tuberculosis exposure guidelines enacted by the CDC.

After respirator masks are worn and used one time, they should be thrown away regardless if they appear dirty or if they were actually exposed to pathogens or particulates. Also, masks should never be shared with another individual as the danger of contamination is always present even in the most sterile of conditions.

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