What Makes N95 Respirators Different From Facemasks ?

Environmental Source Samplers, Inc. (ESS) has been inundated with requests for information on the most effective – and least – N95 Respirators to purchase to protect oneself from the high levels of PM2.5 in the Southeast Asia environment.  Therefore, before we make our recommendation, please understand some of the facts about PM2.5 (and other PM fines).

PM2.5 (and other PM fines) Background

PM2.5 (and lately, there is more discussion about PM1) are dust or aerosol particles that have a spherical diameter of less than 2.5 microns (or, for PM1, less than 1 micron).  To give you an order of magnitude, approximately thirty (30) PM2.5 particles placed next to one another are the equivalent diameter of a human hair. 

Due to the small size, PM2.5 passes easily through our nose and nose hair, our eyes and tear layer, through our nose and lung membranes and act as a conduit straight into the human blood pathway.1  PM2.5 is a complex particle – it is a vehicle that carries other chemicals and pollutants.  PM2.5 may carry metals emitted from mobile and point source fuel combustion; dioxins from improper burning of trash and incinerator operation; chemicals from the burning of agricultural waste in the fields; and countless other targets.

Further, relative to the human body, PM2.5 is approximately twenty (20) times smaller than our skin pores (typical skin pores are approximately 45 microns).  Therefore, our skin (which is the largest human organ) is bombarded with PM2.5 continuously.

Effects of PM2.5 on the Human Population

ESS doesn’t mean to alarm the readers of this web site, but we do want to make sure that the complexity and factors involved with how best to protect oneself are considered.

The health effects of exposure to PM2.5 are well-documented and include:

  • Respiratory and cardiovascular morbidity (such as aggravation of asthma, respiratory symptoms and an increase in hospital admissions)2
  • Mortality from cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and from lung cancer2
  • Increase levels of free radicals (contributing to wrinkles, fine lines, dark spots)3

Degradation of collagen, inflammatory skin diseases and skin aging3

ESS Recommendation for Protecting Oneself from the Effects of PM2.5 in SE Asia

We are pleased to roll-out our recommendation to fully protect the population from the elevated levels of PM2.5 (and associated targets) within the Southeast Asia region. 

Please note:  This imagery and recommendation is meant to be in jest.  However, the point to be made is that your safety equipment should be based on the hazard and your desired level of protection

According to the WHO, “There is no evidence of a safe level of exposure or a threshold below which no adverse health effects occur”2.  So, it is up to you to establish your specific protectionary needs. 

Getting Back to our Multiple Inquiries About Appropriate N95 Respirators

The most important function of a N95 Respirator is to ensure that it is, in fact, filtering the inhaled air. 

  • They will not work with those persons that have facial hair
  • They work best if they have thermoplastic elastomer seals around the mask to face contact zone
  • As the filtering media plugs with PM, moisture or other contaminants – they become less effective
  • During impact exercises, the fitting between the face and mask is often impaired
  • If the fit of the mask is not perfect, the ambient air will pass through the easiest path – which is not through the filter media
  • The rating of the mask is based on a laboratory experiment in “perfect” conditions

Fit-testing is the only way to ensure that you are utilizing a mask that is providing real function and protection.

How Can We Help?

ESS is pleased to offer US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Recommended Qualitative Fit Tests (QLFT) for any persons at our offices in Ha Noi or HCMC.  We can also conduct such testing at your company’s office or at many other venues – based on required needs.  A nominal fee will be assessed based on time and materials.

Additionally, if we are conducting a fit-test and introduction to N95 devices, ESS can arrange to have a specified quantity available at your event.

More About ESS

ESS focuses our services on offering improved environmental science(s), theory, equipment, systems, statistics and results to all of our clients within Asia.  We bring American and International innovations and consulting services to the Asian marketplace.   ESS does not compete with other environmental consulting firms; rather, we partner with the most influential and capable local companies – bringing the most advanced and cost-effective solutions to the end client.

ESS services in Asia include:

  • Air Measurement and Testing (Point Source, Ambient, Industrial Hygiene)
  • Industrial Commissioning Project Implementation/Testing/Evaluation
  • CEMS/CAMS/COMS Design, Integration, Installation
  • CEMS/CAMS/COMS Support (Certification, RATA, Maintenance and Repair)
  • Industrial Site Assessment and Remediation
  • Specialty Air Quality Instrument Sales/Training/Repair
  • Specialty Calibration Gas Sales

1 The Impact of PM2.5 on the Human Respiratory System. Journal of Thoracic Disease, Yu-Fei Xinh, Yue-Hua Xu, Min-Hua Shi, Yi-Xin Lian, January 2016, E69-E74.

2 Health Effects of Particulate Matter, World Health Organization-Regional Office for Europe, ISBN 978 92 890 0001 7, p6, p12

3 Air Pollution & Skin Diseases:  Adverse Effects of Airborne PM on Various Skin Diseases. Kyung Eun Kim, Daeho Cho, Huyn Jeong Park.  Life Sciences, Volume 152, May 2016.  pp 126-134.

About Auliya Ilman
Mr. Ilman is an experienced field technician for ESSI in Ha Noi, Viet Nam office. His expertise in installation, maintenance, and indoor/outdoor testing equipment is notable throughout his career in ESSI. Not only his expertise in equipment installation and maintenance, but also he could provide solutions and recommendations to improve air quality. Throughout his career, he has done numerous time of air quality testing and monitoring, so his suggestion is trustworthy. In addition, Mr. Ilman has a degree in  Mechanical Engineering and USGBC LEED Green Associate Certificate, so he has a remarkable knowledge of ongoing green building principles and practices.