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N95 masks and respirators. What are their purposes ?

By Fabrice Pierre-Toussaint

Contributing Writer for Telegraph Local | See my LinkedIn


According to the FDA, N95 respirators are personal protective equipment that are used to protect the wearer from liquid and airborne particles contaminating the face. They are one part of an infection-control strategy. The FDA has cleared certain facepiece respirators (N95) for use by the general public. To work as expected, an N95 respirator is required to fit properly to your face. Usually, to check for proper fit, you put on respirator and adjust the straps so that the respirator fits tightly yet comfortably to your face.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) usually does not recommend face masks and respirators for use in home or community settings.  However, they may be used by individuals who are at increased risk of severe illness from influenza or other respiratory diseases.

 3M™ Particulate Respirator 8670F,  3M™ Particulate Respirator 8612F, Pasture Tm F550G Respirator,  Pasture Tm A520G Respirator are the N95 respirators the FDA has cleared for use by the general public in health emergencies. These devices are labeled “NOT for occupational use. It is the most common of the seven types of filtering facepiece respirators. This product filters at least 95% of airborne particles but is not resistant to oil.

What is most important to remember about surgical masks is that they are not designed to pass a fit test. Their purpose is to help protect the environment and nearby persons from the wearer’s contaminants. Surgical N95 respirators are designed to reduce but cannot eliminate the wearer’s exposure to airborne biological contaminants. They do not eliminate the risk of illness, disease, or death. Fluid resistant to a certified level measured against a stream of artificial blood directed at the respirator. 

Employers and users are required to follow the OSHA Respiratory Protection Standard, 29CFR 1910.134, as well as other state or local regulations, as appropriate. N95 respirators do not protect against the smell of smoke or gases and vapors such as methane and carbon monoxide. Vapors may also include chemicals such as organic solvents and formaldehyde. Other limitations include, not fitting children and cannot be adapted to properly fit a child. Beards, stubble, or long mustaches may prevent an N95 from sealing to the face properly, causing leaks. It may be difficult for first-time users to put on  respirator properly: practice putting it on before an emergency arises.

If the wearer’s face changes during the year, examples include major weight loss or gain another “fit test” should be performed. Dust masks and surgical masks cannot offer a sufficient level of protection from particles during wildfire conditions or the cleanup process. Surgical masks are primarily designed to prevent biological particles from being expelled by the wearer into the environment.

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 N95 respirators may make breathing more difficult and lead to increased breathing and heart rates. Individuals with heart and respiratory conditions should check with their doctor before wearing an N95 respirator. Should be worn for a maximum of eight hours and should be replaced regularly.

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