Topics discussed on the “Breathable Air” page include:
- The importance of having clean “Breathable Air” in order to survive. There is a reason that it is rated #1 on the List of Basic Essentials for Survival.
- Which types of disaster have the ability to negatively impact your breathable air. A listing of examples of how the various disaster types can negatively affect the quality of the air you will be breathing.
- Terminology and Concepts about Air Purification Devices. Get the lingo that you will be coming across while you look for respirators for yourself and family.
- Issues associated with: Gasmask, Respirator, Escape Hood, and Air Filter products. This is an extremely critical and important section. Read this if it’s the only thing you read on the page.
OK – So I am assuming that you have read the “Breathable Air” page and you are ready to start learning about the different options available to protect your air supply.
Your Air Purification Options for Breathable Air.
- Different types of gas masks for sale that are available to protect your air supply.
- Particulate Respirator, Escape Hood Respirators, Air-Purifying Respirators (a.k.a. Gas Masks), Powered Air-Purifying Respirators, and HEPA Room Filters will be discussed.
- The Pros & Cons of these different devices.
There are several different types of gas masks for sale, which are designed to do specific jobs, ranging from: protection from dust in the workshop to a self-contained system used by firefighters. In order to make this discussion practical for the average family, we will limit our discussion to those types that can be used in protecting our families during the most likely disasters.
We will discuss the following types of respirators:
- Particulate Filtering Respirators
- Hooded Escape Respirators
- Air-Purifying Respirators, (a.k.a Gas Mask)
- Powered Air-Purifying Respirators
- HEPA Room Filters
Particulate Filtering Respirators:
These are the simplest, least expensive and also the least protective of the gas masks for sale. They are designed specifically to remove the larger particulates (0.3 microns and larger) from the air. These filters are designed to be used once and thrown away.
Common uses for particulate respirators are:
- Dusty environments, like a workshop, basement or shop area.
- Cutting the lawn. Protection from pollen.
- Offers some protection from biological contaminants like certain types of the flu and some other air-borne diseases. They are often seen being used in doctor offices and hospitals.
It’s a good idea to have several of these respirators stored away in your work shop, basement, glove box, where you work and any other places that you spend any time. They are relatively inexpensive and can be handy in many different types of scenarios.
The important question is: What type of scenarios can the Particulate Respirator be used in? There are limitations for this type of device – Know what they are. The rest of this section discusses this issue.
Particulate Respirators do not protect you from chemicals, gases, or vapors and are only to be used in low hazard situations.
Particulate Filtering Respirators are available in several sizes capable of fitting children through adults. As with all respirators, it is critically important to use the correct size and make sure that you have a tight fit and seal in order to achieve protection.
In reality, it will be difficult to create a good seal with these types of respirators. The particulate respirator with the metal piece that can be formed to fit around your nose will offer somewhat of a better fit. But unless you can create and maintain a good seal between the mask and your face – you will run the risk of contaminants leaking in through the leaky seal area – every time you breathe in.
Even with the limited protection that a particulate respirator offers, you will be better off wearing one – than nothing at all. Many times you will be looking for protection from the larger particulates that are floating in the air after a disaster strikes; (e.g. sheet rock dust, insulation, dust, molds, etc.) A N-95, N-99, or N-100 particulate mask can help you protect yourself from these larger types of contaminants.
There is an ongoing debate if the Particulate Respirator should even be considered to be part of a disaster preparedness program.
UCLA Department of Epidemiology has this to say about the N95 Particulate Mask. http://www.ph.ucla.edu/EPI/bioter/n95masks.html
Highlights taken from this article:
“…they’re the lightweight, nose-and-mouth respirators designed for medical settings and good for blocking allergens when mowing the lawn. Which begs the question: Can a mowing aid fend off a weapon of mass destruction? How effective would they be in a biological, chemical or nuclear attack?”
“Not much, but better than nothing,” says Victor Utgoff, a defense analyst at the Alexandria-based private Institute for Defense Analysis who has studied gas masks. “They generally protect you from getting particles into your lungs, paint chips and things like that.”
“Although anthrax spores and smallpox aren’t paint chips, the masks do provide protection against bioterrorism, since the most likely used bacterium would be dispersed in particle form, Utgoff says. In fact, the anthrax mail attacks first spotlighted the N95, as office mailrooms scurried for protective gear.”
“Look for “NIOSH N95” on the package; the “N95″ is a government efficiency rating that means the mask blocks about 95 percent of particles that are 0.3 microns in size or larger.”
“The N95 rating meets the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for protection against tuberculosis and anthrax spores, as well as the most foreseeable bioweaponry, which ranges in size from 1.0 to 5.0 microns. So the N95s are more than capable of preventing their inhalation.”
NOTE: If we refer back to the “Air Contaminant Size Table” and draw a line at 0.3 microns – you can see what the N-95 respirators are capable of filtering. Again, this is assuming that you have a good seal between the respirator and your face.
“Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), a physician and public health expert, upped the masks’ visibility even more recently when he advised that people keep a mask rated N95 or better on hand for each member of the family in his book “When Every Moment Counts.”
“… N95s are no fix if terrorists use chemicals, Utgoff says: “Against chemical attack and gas, worthless.”
Read the entire article by clicking here: http://www.ph.ucla.edu/EPI/bioter/n95masks.html
So what kind of protection does the N95 Particulate Respirator offer:
“Not much – but some. But sometimes – Some is Better than None.”
The final decision to use Particulate Respirators is yours. As stated at the beginning of this module; if you have any questions regarding the medical or technical aspects of this topics, please bring them up with your medical professionals or the manufacturers of the products who are licensed to advise in these matters.
If you do decide to utilize particulate respirators in your disaster preparedness plan, then please visit our Solution Center for a complete selection that are the best suited for disaster scenarios.
The process that we used to select these specific particulate respirators is as follows:
- Had to be manufactured by a well know brand with not a good reputation – but a great reputation. We chose 3M because they are the largest manufacturers of particulate respirators, they have been producing NIOSH approved particulate respirators since 1972, and they have a complete line to choose from. Being that these respirators will most likely be used in a disaster scenario – you want to go with a high quality product that you can count on when you need it. Also, 3M offers a Toll Free number you can call if you have any questions regarding their filters. In the USA call 800-243-4630. In Canada call 800-267-4414.
- Must be NIOSH approved and certified.
- If may be necessary that you have these particulate respirators on for a long period of time. If so – a comfortable fit will be very important. Also, must have a built in cushioned “faceseal” that will offer the best seal for these types of respirators.
- Have an included metal nose band to help form the mask around the bridge of your nose and your upper cheek area. [This is the area that is most difficult to form a seal between the mask and your face, and the metal band will also help keep the masks shape as you move around].
- Have an “Exhalation Valve” to ease the breathing process and reduce humidity build up inside the mask. This will be especially helpful in hot and humid environments.
The following 3M particulate respirators model numbers meet all of these qualifications: 8211, 8233 and 8214.
We did break our selection rule a little bit with the following respirators: The 8210 and the 8110S models. The 8210 is an economical respirator offering almost the same features as the 8211, but doesn’t have the exhalation valve. The 8110S was added because it is exactly the same mask as the 8210 – but is specifically sized for people with smaller faces. The 8110S is the mask you want to select for kids or young adults.
The 8214 is similar to the 8211 – but includes a flame resistant filter and an added carbon filter to control nuisance levels of vapors and gaseous contaminants. The 8214 is not a substitute for an Escape Hood or a Gas Mask. The Escape Hood and Gas Mask is really the only way really control gaseous and vapor contaminants. However, they both do have their limitations. See the discussions below on these two types of respirators.
Here is a great brochure by 3M that discusses their particulate respirator product line. Specifically read page #2 in the brochure – it shows you the correct way to put on and fit the respirator to your face for the optimal protection. You can download it by clicking on the Blue Button below.
Please visit our Solution Center for our listing of recommended particulate filtering respirators. You can access the solution center directly by clicking on the Green Button below.
Escape Hood Respirators:
Escape Hoods are designed specifically for use in an emergency situation [to escape from a dangerous area – to a safe area]. The Escape Hood can offer you protection from toxic gases created in building fires, subway fires and can also protect you from CBRN threats. The escape hood offers protection for your lungs (breathing), your eyes, your ears and the head area. Make sure to choose only NIOSH approved and certified escape hoods. Read the manufacturer’s specification regarding the limitations of the hood and to make sure that the hood will protect from carbon monoxide and CBRN contaminants.
NOTE: These filters will have a life expectancy associated with them. Make sure to check the dates on your filters and replace any filter that becomes out of date. The majority of these types of gas masks for sale operate on “negative pressure”, meaning you need to inhale in order to draw air through the filter system. This will take more effort than just normally breathing. And as the filters become clogged from the soot in the smoke – the breathing will become more difficult over time. There are “Powered Air Purifying” systems available which will create a “positive pressure” in the hood so that your breathing will be the same as if you didn’t have a hood on. These will be discussed in more detail below in the “Powered Air Purifying Respirators” section.
What the Escape Hood does is “buys you time”. If you are caught in a building fire, a subway fire or in a CBRN situation, the Escape Hood is going to give you a limited time of breathable air [anywhere from 5 to 60 minutes – depending upon the hood and the situation]. If you are caught in a building fire – your number one objective is to get you and your family out of the building as quickly and safely as you can. The escape hood can be utilized in one of two ways.
- If for some reason you cannot escape your location due to; a blocked exit, your hurt and can’t move, or for whatever reason – you just can’t get out. The escape hood can buy you some time as you wait for the help to get to you.
- The escape hood will allow you to use escape routes that would otherwise be unsafe due to the toxic smoke. The same goes for subway fires and CBNR incidence
You will ultimately need to make the decision to either stay put and wait for the help to get to you – or to make your way out of the building. Whichever decision you make – you need to make sure you know what steps you need to take in order to maintain your safety.
What the Escape Hood does NOT do is:
- Protect you from the fire, super-heated air being produced by the fire, being burned by the fire, etc. It is only going to protect you from the toxic smoke associated with fires. NOT the fire itself. And it is only going to protect your air for a limited time. Don’t think that it will protect your air forever – it won’t.
- It does not protect your skin or other body parts that are not covered by the escape hood. If you are exposed to some type of contaminant that can be absorbed into your skin – the escape hood is not going to help you.
If you either live or work in a high-rise building, or use a subway to travel around in – you should seriously consider an Escape Hood. They fold flat and can be stored in a night stand, a desk drawer, or even in a briefcase, backpack, or purse. Seriously consider having one for each family member: where you live, where you work, and on you when you are moving between these two places.
Air Purifying Respirators, [a.k.a Gas Masks]:
This type of respirator will offer you the best overall protection: as long as you have;
- A good fit
- A good seal
- Been trained in the correct way to use it
- Proper filters installed
- Know how to put it on
- Know how to take it off
These types or respirators are referred to air purifiers because they filter “clean” the contaminants out of the air as you breathe. As you inhale, (a negative pressure system is created), causing air to be pulled in through the filters. The filter traps the chemicals, biologicals and radioactive contaminants.
There are three main configurations of gas masks for sale:
- The half face gas mask will only protects your mouth and nose.
- A full face air purifying respirator will protect the mouth, nose, and eyes.
- A hooded gas mask that offers protection to the entire head. The hooded gas mask was discussed in the previous section (Escape Hood Respirators).
As with the Particulate Respirator, the Air Purifying Respirator needs to have a good seal with the face in order to be effective. See the previous page “How a gasmask, respirator, and/or air filter can help protect your air supply” regarding the importance of having a good seal and some of the things that will prevent you from having a good seal with your respirator.
Also, as with all the other respirators, you need to be trained how to “Don” (put on) and “Doff” (take off) the respirator.
- The donning procedure is important because you need to make sure the respirator is forming a good seal, and the straps that secure the respirator to your face and head are on correctly and securely. Also, you must don the respirator in a clean uncontaminated area. If you don the respirator in a contaminated area – the mask will act like a closed container holding the contamination up against your face. No reason to have a respirator if that is the situation.
- The doffing procedure is important because you need to be very careful that once you get to a clean safe area – that you don’t spread contaminants on yourself, on other people, and into the environment of the safe area. No reason to go through all of the safety of having a respirator if when you get back your just going to spread the contaminants all over your body as you take it off. It kind of defeats the purpose of having a respirator in the first place.
Filters [also knows as the cartridge and if the filter is enclosed in a metal shell it is referred to as a canister – we are just going to refer to them as filters], are replaceable and interchangeable. You need to match the filter to the specific contaminant for it to be effective. Some filters are designed to remove biological contaminants others are designed to remove chemical contaminants. A filter designed to protect against chlorine gas may not protect against a petroleum based chemical or a biological or radiological contaminant.
There are many filters that are capable of protecting against more than one and even several different types of contaminants – but there is no ONE FILTER that will protect against all substances. In order to choose the correct filter – you need to know what type of contaminants you will be encountering. If you completed your personal risk analysis detailed in this website – then you are probably aware of the most likely scenarios that you will encounter.
NIOSH does certify some air purifying respirators to provide protection against (CBRN) contaminants: Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear contaminants. They also rate the respirator filter based upon how long the protection will last.
- Cap 1: Offers 15 minutes of protection
- Cap 2: Offers 30 minutes of protection
- Cap 3: Offers 45 minutes of protection
The CBRN respirators are the closest respirator for “overall protection” – but they can be expensive. But if you want to have one respirator that will cover the majority of threats – the CBRN is the way to go.
Powered Air Purifying Respirators, (PAPR).
These types of respirators take the Air Purifying Respirator and the Escape Hood and move them up a notch. As was discussed in the previous sections, the non-powered respirators operate on a “negative pressure”, meaning that you will need to “breathe in” to pull the air in through the filters. This will take more work on the wearer’s part than just normal breathing. As the filters become clogged due to use – you will need to breathe in harder to draw the air in through the filtering medium. Depending upon the filters, how clogged they are and the conditions that the respirator is being used in; the user may need to breathe 3 to 4 times harder than normal to draw air in through the filters.
People with respiratory problems and small children will have issues taking deep enough breaths to draw the air in through the filters. The solution for this is the “Powered Air Purifying Respirator”. These respirators have small battery operated fans that creates a positive pressure in the respirator so you breathe normally. No extra work required on your part to make the respirator operate. Just make sure that your batteries are always fully charged. Dead or low charged batteries will not allow the fan to operate and then the person will need to breathe in to get the filtered air.
The other advantage of the Powered Air Purifying Respirators is that the fan maintains a “positive pressure” in the mask at all times. This positive pressure prevents contaminants from leaking inward around the “mask to face” seal area. If you are wearing a non-powered, negative pressure respirator, every time you breathe in, if you don’t have a good seal around the mask – you run the possibility of contaminants leaking into the mask. Read: That’s not good.
HEPA [High-Efficiency Particulate Air Filter] Room Filters.
You’re not going to want to wear a respirator for a very long time. Eventually, you will either need to leave the area or come back to your home. If you come back to your home, you are going to need a safe Shelter Room. The Shelter Room is a specific room you have set up in your home that will protect you from the contaminants. Click here to learn more about setting up your Shelter Room.
As was discussed in the terminology section; the HEPA Filter was actually designed during the Manhattan Project to prevent the spread of air-borne radioactive particles. They remove 99.97% of the air particulate giving them a rating of N100.
HEPA Filters are often used in hospitals and medical offices because they are effective in removing biological and radiological contaminants. However, HEPA Filters are not good at removing chemicals, gases or odors. You can get a HEPA Filter combined with a Carbon Filter which will help remove some of the odors.
If you do consider a HEPA Filter, get it with a lifetime HEPA Filter and replaceable Carbon Filter. The small increase in price will expand the protection you will get and is well worth it.
HEPA Filters are available as stand-alone units that can be used in an individual room – or as whole house filters that are installed in the return duct of homes that utilize a forced air systems [fan] for their heating and cooling systems.
However, if your house is not sealed from outside air infiltration, the effectiveness of the whole house system is diminished.
The other thing you will need to consider is that both the stand-alone unit and the whole house system will need electric power to work and to be effective.
When deciding upon which HEPA filter; look for the CADR [Clean Air Delivery Rate] rating of the HEPA filter to decide on the size you should be buying. The CADR is the filters ability to cycle the air in a room. A CADR of 500 means it will cycle 500 cubic feet of air per minute. You want to have a HEPA filter that has the capacity to filter the air in the room at least ONE TIME every minute.
To determine the cubic feet in a room: Multiply the WIDTH x the LENGTH x the Height of the room. Example: Let’s say you have a room that is 10 feet WIDE by 12 feet LONG by 8 feet HIGH. 10 x 12 x 8 gives you 960 cubic feet. So when you are shopping for a HEPA Filter for the room, make sure that it has a CADR rating of 960 or more.
Pros & Cons of the Different Types of Respirators and Filters.
- Information presented on this website is for informational purposes only. Do not consider any of this information as medical advice. This information is only here to make you aware of potentially dangerous situations that may arise and is here only for your consideration. If you have any questions regarding the medical or technical aspects of this topics, please bring them up with your medical professionals or the manufacturers of the products who are licensed to advise in these matters.
- The final decision to use, or not to use, any of these types of respirators, hoods, masks, or room filters is yours.
- Buy only NIOSH approved and certified respirators.
- Regarding the protection level of particulate respirators:
“Not Much – But Some. But Sometimes – Some is Better than None.”
- The Concept of Expensive: If you need it – you need it. We know that some of the gas masks and escape hoods can be expensive. But if after you have done your risk analysis of your location and if you have found that you and your family live in an area that has a high possibility of an event happening where you may have need of a gas mask (Read: Specifically near a Chemical Plant, or a Nuclear Facility) then you should make every effort to acquire them. Similarly, if you live or work in a high rise building, or take a subway frequently – you should really consider an Escape Hood. All the money in the bank won’t help you if you need the protection that a respirator offers and you don’t have one.
- Visit our Solution Center for particulate respirators, escape hoods, HEPA room filters and gas masks for sale. Plus you will find many more products for your disaster planning needs.
CDC Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Respirator Fact Sheet http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/npptl/topics/respirators/factsheets/respfact.html
CDC Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Respirator Trusted-Source Information: List of Approved Filtering Facepiece Respirators.
CDC Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ancillary Respirator Information. FAQ.
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