Friday, September 30, 2011

N95 Masks

I opened a package of N95 masks to see how well one folded to see if I could put it in my mobile survival kit. Reading the enclosed literature, I learned to my dismay that it's good only for non-harmful particulates such as sanding dust. So, instead of my risking not being protected from something by taking "only a bandanna" for my air travel exposure kit, I actually wasted money by buying N95 masks instead of packing a simple cotton bandanna in my regular exposure kit.

I'm annoyed the Powers That Be advise us to buy bulky, expensive, specialty items we'll use infrequently, if not rarely, instead of inexpensive, easy to EDC items many people already use on a daily or other frequent basis.

Since N95 masks only filter out non-harmful particulates such as dust, more reasonable alternatives are cotton bandannas, those keffiyehs or shemaghs the military are finding so helpful in Iraq and Afghanistan, or cotton pareos. Shoot, when I encountered dust storms without protection, a dampened paper towel from the ladies' room held over my nose and mouth was enough although inconvenient because it wouldn't stay in place by itself.


Anonymous said...

I think you misunderstand what's going on when the N95 mask's enclosed literature says it's good only for non-harmful particulates.

As I understand, an N95 mask will filter out 95% of all airborne particles of a given size (0.3 micrometers). Whether those particles are harmful particles or non-harmful particles is irrelevant to the N95 rating.

But the user of an N95 mask may still be harmed, for instance, if some or all of the dangerous particles in your particular environment are smaller than 0.3 micrometers, or if they're so harmful that even taking in 5% of the airborne particles you'd take in without the mask is still enough to harm you.

In either case, assuming you don't get overconfident because you're wearing a mask, I am sure you would be better off in almost every emergency case using an N95 mask than a bandanna or similar improvised mask. You might not want to use an N95 mask for daily protection against smoke or poisonous dust (and the manufacturer's lawyers who wrote the product manual certainly don't want you to), but for purposes of a mobile survival kit, it should be a lot better than the alternative.

Gail Rhea said...

The CDC fact sheet on respirators says, "The N95 respirator (or N95 mask) has been approved by CDC/NIOSH and can give you some protection from dust and mold in the air. They must fit well and be worn correctly to protect you...
Because respirators are meant to be used by healthy workers who have the help of training, medical evaluations, and proper fit, the amount of protection provided to the general public may be much less...
The N95 respirator is only approved for dust (from sweeping, sawing, mold removal, and other activities that cause dust) in the air."

Folding an N95 mask is awkward, introducing creases that create more openings between the user's face and the edge of the mask that compromise the efficacy of the mask even further than the CDC anticipates the general public to experience.

A bandanna is much better for a mobile survival kit because it's more compact, more versatile, and reusable. After all, the key to having a mobile survival kit is for it to be small enough to take along and not get left behind "just this once" because of an inconvenient size or weight.

Fortunately, a bandanna may be tucked into the wearer's collar or the lower edge may be held in place by the poncho component of the exposure kit. Shemaghs and pareos are easily wrapped so there are no openings between face and material.

Don't be afraid to think outside the box. When it comes to health and survival, it's the result that is important, not the equipment.