When I first sat down to write this article I was faced with, for me, a difficult dilemma. In Be Prepared, But Are We?2, we will address that.
- The Difficult Dilemma
- Surgical Masks
- Particulate Respirators
- Gas Masks
The Difficult Dilemma
When I started thinking about how to compose this series of articles I readily chose water as the first thing that we needed to secure, and in many disaster situations, it is the key to 72 – 96-hour survival.
However, the spectacular eruption of Mt. Mayon during January raised the issue of air and its importance as a must have for our survival.
So Be Prepared, But Are We?2 will have the provision of clean air as its major focus.
Before we do though, I want to point out that there are two lots of advertising in this post, from Amazon for our readers who have access to their online stores and from Lazada for those that can utilise Lazada in the Philippines. Clicking on an advert in this post and purchasing an item will result in us receiving a small commission from the company. It does not increase the price of the item to you and if you appreciate the time and effort that goes into these articles it helps us pay the bills on this non-profit site. We appreciate any purchase you make large or small.
Now back to business.
About Air, Air Pollution, And Protecting Your Lungs
Life exposes us to many situations where we can go from relative comfort to desperation in quite a short period of time.
- In the short term we are most vulnerable to a lack of air, on average death occurs 3 minutes after our supply of air runs out.
- However you can live breathing low-quality air, apparently with little immediate negative effects for considerable periods of time. In the long term, however, you may find yourself enduring chronic or even terminal diseases after relatively short exposure to such air.
While air pollution is a real issue in the Philippines and cumulatively could be classed as a disaster, it falls outside the focus of this article.
Our location on the ring of fire means that we can be faced with earthquakes and volcanic eruptions on an irregular but fairly frequent basis. Both these events can cause the release of pollutants into the atmosphere.
- The risk of the release of large amounts toxic gas occurs when the earthquakes are associated with volcanic activity. The earthquake can release these gases prior to an eruption and while people remain in the danger area.
- Apart from the spectacle of molten lava being flung into the atmosphere, and flowing down the sides of the volcano, an eruption can release pollutants into the atmosphere as gases are released from magma explosions and as ash clouds and other toxic particles come back to earth.
- Volcanic gases were directly responsible for approximately 3% of all volcano-related deaths of humans between 1900 and 1986. Some volcanic gases kill by acidic corrosion; others kill by asphyxiation.
- The greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, is emitted from volcanoes, accounting for nearly 1% of the annual global total.
- Some volcanic gases including sulfur dioxide, hydrogen chloride, hydrogen sulfide and hydrogen fluoride react with other atmospheric particles to form aerosols. These aerosols mainly sulfuric acid will eventually fall as acid rain, somewhere on the globe.
Protecting Your Lungs
You can protect your lungs and get to breathe relatively safe air by using a respirator
The kind of respirator you use depends on the hazard level you are facing and range from surgical masks to military grade gas masks, known as NBC.
There are some caveats that accompany respirators:
- The success of any respirator lies in its ability to exclude that for which it was designed.
- This means that:
- The only entry point for air is through the filter.
- The filter actually stops the nasties to a level that assures your survival.
- Initially designed for surgeons, they originally came in a one size fits all pack. However, their increasing use has resulted in the production of a range of sizes
- A surgical mask is a non-fitted, disposable device that creates a physical barrier between the mouth and nose of the wearer. It can protect you from potential contaminants in the immediate environment, or protect others from infection from you..
- Surgical masks may be labeled as surgical, isolation, dental or medical procedure masks.
- If worn properly, a surgical mask is meant to help block large-particle droplets, splashes, sprays or splatter that may contain germs (viruses and bacteria).
- While a surgical mask may be effective in blocking splashes and large-particle droplets, by design, it does not filter or block very small particles in the air that may be transmitted by coughs, sneezes or certain medical procedures.
- Surgical masks also do not provide complete protection from germs and other contaminants because of the loose fit between the surface of the mask and your face.
- Surgical masks are not intended to be used more than once. If your mask is damaged or soiled, or if breathing through the mask becomes difficult, you should remove it, discard it safely, and replace it with a new one.
- To safely discard your mask, place it in a plastic bag and put it in the trash. Wash your hands after handling the used mask.
- Surgical masks should never be shared.
- Particulate respirators are the simplest, least expensive, and least protective of the respirator types available.
- These respirators only protect against particles (e.g., dust). They do not protect against chemicals, gases, or vapors, and are intended only for low hazard levels.
- Anything that prevents the face mask from fitting tightly against the face, such as a beard or long sideburns, may cause leakage.
- Finding suitable particulate respirator for a child can be almost impossible in an emergency situation, so if you plan to use this solution pre-purchase is essential.
- Getting a child to wear a particulate respirator for any length of time can very difficult, this can be addressed to some extent by familiarity, using the mask in drills and games.
- Particulate respirators can also be be an issue for those suffering from asthma and other respitory conditions as well as any tendency towards claustraphobia, because of the effort required to breath
- There is always a letter that precedes a number
- The letters are P:
- The letter P which indicates that this filter can protect against dust, fumes oil mists and oil based particulates.
- For our purposes these could include the smoke from highly industrialised areas or oil refineries damaged by fire or earthquake.
- They also provide complete protection for all non oil based particulates.
- P masks can be used for up to 40 hours or one month, whichever comes first.
- The letter R:
- The letter R indicates that the filter provides protection against the same particulates, but for a much shorter period of time.
- R Filters are effective for up to 8 hours.
- The letter N:
- A letter N filter indicates that the filter will provide complete protection against non-oil-based particulates, like lead, arsenic and cadmium, and non oily ash.
- The N filter lasts for approximately the same time as a P filter.
- Each of the letters above also has a number attached to it
- The number 95 indicates that the filter will stop 95% of very small (0.1 micron) particles.
- The number 99 indicates that the filter will stop 99% of particles.
- The number 100 indicates that the filter will stop 99.7% of particles
The Combined Letters and Numbers
So joining them together you have N95 which will filter out 95% of non oil based particulates or P100 which will filter out 99.7% of oil based particulates as well as all the non oil based particulates.
Three Types Of Particulate Respirator:
- Antiviral Face Mask
- These claim up to a 99.9% protection rate against airborne germs and could be considered an inexpensive option in a pandemic of the viruses they claim to filter.
- An antiviral face mask inactivates some harmful pathogens, including imminent strains of influenza, such as H1N1, avian flu, and swine flu.
- The ingredients used for inactivation vary, but this is a widely used example of the type.
- General Use
- These forms of disposable particulate respirators are made to filter particulates as small as 0.1 micron using either:
- breathable weaves of paper or synthic mesh, designed to trap the dangerous particles.
- Biodegradeable plastic material, with a P, N, or R rated built in filter.
- The issue of fit has also beeen addressed as much as possible with:
- Many coming in a variety of sizes and shapes for a better face fit
- Also a large number now have a soft silicone or rubberised edge and adjustable nose clip to improve the seal
- Here is a LINK to a google search of Disposable Particulate respirators. Click on the visit button after clicking on an image to be taken to the page the image was sourced from. Often with more information on that particular respirator.
- A resuseable particulate respirator:
- Is one where the filters, are replaceable, unless they are it should not be re-used, no matter what the seller says.
- Must be thoroughly cleaned, according to the manufacturers instructions, after each use.
- Must be stored according to manufacturers instructions, and inspected for deterioration each quarter. Look for cracking of the webbing material, seals, and where the cartridges are fitted.
- The models of reuseable particulate respirators are many so here is a Google image gallery of some.
- A powered particulate respirator either:
- Assists the passage of contaminated air through a filter
- provides an independent source of uncontaminated air.
- Both are bulky, requiring a battery and in the case of the type providing and independent supply of uncontaminated air, a scuba type air tank.
- Battery life is also limited and unless you have the ability to recharge, they could become a burden rather than a help. So they haven’t figured seriously in our considerations.
If they are something that interests you here is a google search of images of powered particulate respirators, with links back to the source of the images for more info on each product.
If you are looking for maximum protection available then a gas mask is the answer.
But not just any gas mask. On eBay and many prepper sites, you can buy gas masks for as low as $10 US and as high as $500 US.
What are the differences:
- Not all masks sold as gas masks can measure up to the task. Only two types will do the job:
NBC Gas Mask.
- This full-face respirator protects against:
- Nuclear fission or fusion from accident or attack.
- Protection from particles of radioactive fallout.
- Viruses such as:
- Avian Flu
- Anthrax is one example
- Volcanic Ash
- Mustard Gas
- Sarin Gas
- Tear Gas
- Blister Gas
- Blood Gas
CBRN Gas Mask
- This full-face respirator protects againstall of the above plus:
- The difference between radiological and nuclear in a gas mask is that a radiological mask (CBRN gas mask) provides protection from:
- Radioactive material generated from the byproducts and waste of industrial or medical therapies.
- Sometimes people confuse the “R” to mean riot protection for civil unrest.
- They are often associated with riot control because they have the highest level of protection.
- Riot control requires the ability to speak through the gas mask.
- A CBRN gas mask covers the following increased specifications over an NBC gas mask:
- Increased visor ballistics protection.
- Reduced weight and bulk (greater comfort).
- Lowered breathing resistance.
- Ability to change out cartridges on a contaminated field.
- May be fire resistant.
- They usually also have a wider field of view.
- So unless the mask has NBC OR CBRN stamped on it, don’t purchase for protection.
Those occurring naturally in the environment.
- Every gas mask has a warranty, some as short as a year some as long as 20 years. There is lot of chatter on the web, about only buying and using a gas mask where the warranty is current. The choice is always yours but my advice for what it’s worth is this:
- The warranty reflects the confidence of the maker in the product under normal regular use. Stored properly the life of the product should far exceed this timeframe. In fact it hopefully will sit for many years without use.
- More dangerous are gas masks that are marked NBC or CBRN, that may even be within the warranty period which are:
- Sold with damage either known or otherwise, that would render them defective in real life use. Always do a physical check of the:,/li>
- The face seal
- The rubber intake and outflow valves
- The seal around any glass
- Any sign of:
- Cracking, hardening or tearing of the face mask rubber
- Loosening of, or damage to the compound securing glass components
- Loss of elasticity of any rubber component
- Should result in a refusal to purchase
- Sold after being used in a situation where it needed to be sanitized before beinng reused use and was not. It is recommended that if you buy a surplus mask, that you sanitise it according to the manufacturers instructions before storing.
- More dangerous to the average user are the filters that make the mask effective:
- A filter comprises:
- A particulate barrier made of material or paper. It is sometimes treated with chemical to widen the effective reach of the filter.
- Activated charcoal which deals with many chemical threats it traps carbon-based impurities (“organic” chemicals), as well as things like chlorine. Many other chemicals are not attracted to carbon at all — sodium and nitrates, to name a couple — so they pass right through. This means that an activated-charcoal filter will remove certain impurities while ignoring others.
- Then another particulate filter to catch any charcoal rumbs loosened by the passage of the air.
- Ensure that the filter cartridge you purchase has the same thread size as the mask. Most NBC and CBRN masks now comply with the standard NATO 40mm thread, but some still don’t.
- Every filter will have a use by date, for storage, which is much more critical than that on the mask itself. Use the following process:
- Determine what threats you think are likely and if necessary purchase filters that will work for that. Some filters will protect against a range of threats, check with your supplier.
- I would not advise using any filter beyond the period above, as beyond that time degeneration, is not inevitable but highly likely.
- Proper storage requires you to ensure that:
- That the flter is plugged at both ends and sealed by the manufacturer.
- That if in a sealed bag that it is not damaged in any way.
- That the filter is stored according to manfacturers instructions
- Do regular checks of both your masks and filter for signs of deterioration.
- Signs that the particulate filter is deteriorating are:
- the filter comes loose from the frame to which it is attached, this can happen as the glue ages
- The material the particulate filter is made of, becomes discolored, sheds or frays.
- The charcoal can also deteriorate:
- Sometimes is turns dust and starts to leak through the particulate filter.
- Sometimes it clumps and you can feel the larger bits moving when you move the filter
- Immediately replace all the filters from that batch that you have stored.
- When in actual use the filter will have a life recommeneded by the manufacturer. This is based on average life between 8 – 24 hours. Play with that time frame at your own risk.
- While very effective if fitted correctly there are some limitations:
- Childrens masks are freely available at present, but getting children to wear them is still a major difficulty
- Anyone with claustrophobia may find the mask impossible to wear. It is not a logical choice and can’t be forced.
- Those with even short beards will not be protected by a gas mask. Requiring some change on the part of the wearer who needs to commit to being clean-shaven.
Always buy in date filters, stored correctly the shelf life can be double the use by date, quite safely.
Caveats on Gas Masks
Do You Need One?
They are expensive and if you have a family and household to cater to, maybe prohibitatively so.
Threats that may require the protection of an NBC or CBRN mask are likely to occur in densely populated areas, is that your situation?
Is It Enough?
If you are facing threats requiring an NBC or CBRN gas mask, you need to consider that many of them may enter through the skin as well as the lungs.
Therefore you will have to consider coveralls, hoods, mittens, and slippers to provide skin protection.
This could also become very expensive, as many of these are one use garments.
If you think you would consider such options here is a google image search with many such protective garments displayed, you can find out more by clicking on each image
In Part 3 of Be Prepared. But Are We? We will look at providing shelter, hope to see you then.