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By July 25, 2012 Read More →

A Primer on Respirators

[intro2]I can honestly say that respirators have saved my life and also has extended my life while they protected me from respiratory illness. [/intro2]

This is mundane information, but necessary!

I have been in the cement industry for over 27 years.  I always have a 3M N95 respirator on my person (the manufacturer does not matter, I just like 3M).  It is one of the tricks of the trade that old timers pass on to the new guys.  The mask is safely tucked up in my hardhat above the top suspension strap, always ready for when I need it.  There is nothing macho about breathing dust, breath enough of it and you will die!

I remember when I watched on TV the day the Twin Towers came down in NYC.  If only some of those people had masks tucked away in their purse or folded up in a wallet, or in a desk drawer. It would have saved some of their lives. I have seen wild fires with people coughing and blinded by the smoke and ash; again having the right equipment would stem some of the panic and make escape easier.

How many of you reading this have a few dust masks in their trucks or cars?

Do you have some in your bug out bag?

There are three basic types of respirators

  • The simple N95
  • The half face
  • The full face.

There are also the air supplying type know as the self contained breathing apparatus, or SCBA, but that is specialized equipment and far about the average prepper.

The N95

The N95 with the air relief valve comes in a box of 10 for around $25.00. It has a foam nose cushion and a metal nose former.  The N95 will remove 95% of non-oil dust particulates.

This filter can also be used to protect the wearer from airborne biological particles like mold, Bacillus Anthracis, Mycobacterium Tuberculosis. You do not need a fit test for this respirator. It is wise to have a set of dust goggles when you wear this mask to keep particulates from your eyes.  The goggles I have are actually prescription goggles, expensive but well worth the money.

The Half Face Respirator

The second type is the Half Face Respirator.  They have different cartridges for different hazards.   3M color codes their chemical cartridges (these will fit the full face mask also):

  • Black:  Organic Vapor (6001)
  • White:  Acid Gases (6002)
  • Yellow: Organic Vapor/Acid Gases (6003)
  • Green:   Ammonia/Methyl-amine (6004)
  • Olive/Black: Formaldehyde/ Organic Vapor (6005)
  • Olive:  Multi-Gas  Vapor (6006)
  • Orange:  Mercury Vapor/ Chlorine Gas (6009)
  • Other companies have different codes! Make sure you have the right filter!

The advantage half face mask over the N95 is that the half face mask offers better protection than the N95 type mask.  The cartridge has a shelf life of around five years from manufacture date as long as they are kept in a cool, dry place.

The half face/full face mask should be kept in a cool dry place in a sealed plastic bag.  Some applications need a particulate filter to remove droplets or particles in the air along with the cartridge, these applications call for a combination filter.

The cartridges alone will not protect you.  When the cartridge medium is full to capacity the gases will come through, this is called “breakthrough.”  You must change the cartridge before this happens. Failure to do so means sickness or death.  Trust me, throwing up in your mask is not pleasant.   Most cartridges last around 40 hours.  As with the N95 it is recommended that some type of goggle/eye protection be used to protect your vision, even swim goggles will work.

  1. Since everyone’s face is different you need to make sure that the mask fits right.  You should do a “Fit Test.”  This is a test to see if the mask fits your face and is sealed to your face.
  2. Place the mask onto your face and adjust the straps to “snug up” onto your face.
  3. Breath normal.
  4. For safety, have a buddy place rubber surgical gloves over the left then the right cartridge.
  5. Breath in, the mask should compress to your face and no air should bypass the face to mask seal.
    • Try this for a few seconds then remove the mask so you can breath.
    • If you have a leak check for cracks, tightness of the cartridges, and straps.
    • Try again.
    • If it still leaks, do not use.

Beards affect the masks effectiveness.!

You should always do a fit test when you place the mask on.

A simple way is:

  • Use your hands to cover the cartridges and breath
  • If the mask fits right it will collapse to your face to prove a correct seal

Full Face Mask

The third, and most expensive type, is the full face mask.  I use this when I need full protection of my skin and eyes from contaminates. The fit test on this mask is the same way as the half face mask.

It is your responsibility to have the correct mask and to know how to use it properly.



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