Three Letters Re: N95 Masks for Influenza Protection

Dear Jim and Family,
I recently read your book “Patriots”. It was a great read and really scared me too. it brought to light all of fears I have in the back of my mind on how fragile society is and our economy. It is spurring me into action now although it will have to wait as I am deploying to Afghanistan in the next couple of months.

I just read your section on the Swine Flu and the question of N95 masks and wearing them. As an 11-year veteran career firefighter and sergeant in the Army National Guard, I felt I needed to inform your readers of one glaring life and death point about those masks that is being missed: You need to be fit tested for any mask, the word mask is a misnomer, they are respirators, if they don’t fit right, they won’t work. When it comes to diseases don’t accept anything less than a 100% fit. Not all masks work for all people, I’m sure you and your wife aren’t the same size, for example. Also, if you go on the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) web site there is Flu Pandemic information. The IAFF also recommends P100 masks, not N95 masks. This is because the P100s catch pretty much 100% of the [2 micron or larger ] particulates, so they are the best bang for your buck. Also a P100 is a long duration use filter, by that I mean, as the filter gets more and more saturated it will get harder and harder to breathe. The mask could be used for a day or a couple of days if need be. P100 masks are made by Moldex [, 3M, and several other makers] and sell for about $40.00 for a five-pack.

I live in Stamford Connecticut right outside New York City (NYC) and work for a large Fire Department. I fit test all 300 guys every year and about 20 size changes occur each year due to weight loss or gain. Hence another reason to be fit tested. I hope that this sheds some light on the issue of a proper-fitting mask.

Be Well, Stay Safe, and with God most of all, – SGT Joe L.

An N95 or N100 mask is actually only good for a few hours of use. Once they become saturated with water from your breath, they loose their effectiveness as well as become a health hazard that makes it easy to literally asphyxiate you. The wet keeps air from going through that part of the mask and you end up breathing the air that makes it past the seal between your face and your mask. Also those of you (like me) with facial hair, out comes the razor. If you plan on spending a long time out in public during what ever the epidemic of the day is, you should carry several. This is good advice to those that have bought a single box of them and consider themselves “prepared”. The best bet during a pandemic is just to stay at your retreat, away from others.. N100 masks are quite expensive even by the box and are the best choice. N95s will do if you don’t have any N100s. – Frank B on the Border

Referencing the letter: Recent Experience with an N95 Protective Mask: This may be a case of “pilot error”. The standard N95 mask has a bad reputation, as a retailer of N95 masks there are several drawbacks to these masks, they are:

* Fit
* Filter
* And Fouling

First let’s look at fit, because they are designed as a one-size-fits-all consumer product they obviously don’t fit every face, and they tent to gap around the edges, especially if making facial movement like talking.

Second, the filter material they are using is deemed “to stop “95% of all particulate matter larger than 2 microns”. There are several articles that show the manufacturers use every conceivable way to make their product match those standards and few of them are on actual human test subjects. [(The tests are done with mechanical test fixtures with tight edge seals.)]

Third and most important as your letter writer pointed out is “Fouling”. With out an exhalation port the filter material becomes clogged with the water vapor you breathe out. This then forces you to either force your air in and out through an increasingly “full” mask or more likely, breathe around the gaps in the mask, making it completely ineffective.

Then you may be asking “Why buy them if they don’t work”? Well the truth of the matter is that they do work, if you use them correctly and for the right reasons. The inexpensive N95 masks come in boxes of 20. That is so that you change them often. With heavy use, i.e. heavy breathing, they should be changed at least once an hour. The greatest utility for these masks is to help you to not touch your nose and mouth with your hands!

Although the Flu virus can be airborne, you are far more likely to get it by touching a contaminated surface like a door knob, stair rail, or a grocery cart handle [and then unconsciously touching your face]. So for that purpose they do a great job.

There are more expensive disposable masks on the market, (Those made by Triosyn are the best in my opinion, although very expensive and hard to find.)

Don’t count out the great standby, the N95, I stand by them, but only if they are used correctly! – Kory