Air pollution is a growing threat to the world. Rapid industrialisation and rampant urbanisation combined with an unsustainable lifestyle are the leading cause of the increase in air pollution. Most of the world’s megacities are reeling under the pressure of air pollution and are developing various mechanisms and plans to deal with the rising global issue. This, in turn, requires the diversion of resources which could have been otherwise used for other social welfare needs, among others. Apart from that, air pollution, in 2018, had lead to around 7 million deaths worldwide.
People living in megacities are at the most risk. To counter the growing menace of air pollution, they can adopt a particular lifestyle like using public transport or carpools for travelling, cleaning the house, using indoor air purifiers, among others. The people living in big polluted cities can also wear masks when they are outdoors, to minimise the risk of air pollution.
In this article, we will explain different types of air masks, so that you can buy one according to your requirements.
What are air pollution masks and their different ratings?
Air pollution masks are made up of fabric, microfiber or processed paper, along with a layer of activated carbon to contain harmful gaseous particles.
Air mask ratings are in two parts:
Respirator Rating Letter Class, which are as follows.
- N: Not oil resistant
- R: Mildly oil resistant
- P: Strongly oil resistant
Respirator Rating Number Class, which are given below.
- 95: Removes 95% of particles which are at least 0.3-microns in diameter.
- 99: Removes 99% of particles which are minimum of 0.3-microns in diameter.
- 100: Removes 99.97% of the particles with a minimum of 0.3-micron diameter.
N95 vs N99 vs N100 vs P95 vs P100 pollution masks
Different types of air masks are as follows.
N95 air masks
These are the most widely used air pollution masks. As we can see from the specifications above, they remove 95% of 0.3-micron diameter particles. These masks are not oil-resistant, so they are ineffective in oily atmospheres.
N95 are used in hospitals and labs and can protect against diseases like swine flu, tuberculosis, influenza, among others. However, they are not designed for people with facial hairs as proper fit is hard to achieve.
These masks have more than one layer of protection and sometimes also feature a let-out valve to prevent moisture from accumulating inside the mask.
N95 masks are labelled by the FDA as single-use, disposable devices, and one should immediately discard them if the masks are damaged.
The masks need to be washed after 2-3 days of use. Some of the popular brands that you can check for this mask are Honeywell and 3M. These masks have a starting price of approximately INR 100.
N99 air masks
These masks can filter 99% of particulate matter that’s 0.3-micron diameter. Similar to N95 masks, the ‘N’ rating signifies that these masks are not oil resistant and won’t work against harmful oil-based particles. However, unlike the previous N95 masks, they can filter more percentage of particulate matter
N99 masks can have multiple protection layers and come in all sizes with adjustable straps. The masks can also feature an outlet valve to prevent the accumulation of carbon dioxide. The masks are washable and have a limited 40-hour wear time.
N100 air masks
As you can probably understand from the name N100 — these masks remove 99.97% of the particles with a minimum of 0.3-micron diameter while not being oil-resistant (which is denoted by N). These masks protect from other impurities other than oil and as such are useful for persons inhaling lead dust from the construction sites or mineral mining.
Along with that, these masks are also suitable for filtering cadmium, arsenic as well as methylenedianiline. One can also use the masks if working in agricultural or in dry food processing sectors. If you are looking for masks that guarantee protection against diseases such as Ebola and Avian Influenza. But remember to protect yourself with additional gears such as latex gloves and hazmat suits.
P95 air masks
As the name suggests, these masks are firmly oil resistant and can filter about 95% of harmful particulate matter with a diameter of at least 0.3-micron. Thus, they are suitable in greasy environments like oil refineries, gas stations, kitchens, among others. They can also capture PM 10 along with the usual PM 2.5.
These masks come with a cooling valve, adjustable nose cushions and can have an additional carbon layer which filters odours. They are more capable than N95 masks and are thus more expensive.
One thing to note is that P95 masks should not be used for more than 8 hours. Also, they need continuous washing, as they are used in greasy environments.
3M and Grin Health make P95 air masks; the starting price is INR 490.
P100 air masks
These masks are strongly oil resistant and can remove about 99.97% hazardous particles and they provide the same protection as N100 masks and are particularly useful in oily environments. These masks can also be used while welding metals.
Furthermore, P100 masks are also used by people working in the agricultural and food processing sectors. As these are the highest rated masks, persons involved in asbestos mining use P100 masks for safety.
Things you should keep in mind before buying air pollution masks
There are several things you need to consider if you are planning to buy an air pollution mask.
- First and the most essential point to consider is the environment where you will work. As mentioned above, for greasy environments, N95 or N98 masks won’t suffice — you will have to buy P95 masks. Similarly, for regular use, N95 masks are suitable.
- Secondly, the fitting of the mask should be right. Gaps between the mask and the face will damage the whole purpose of the mask.
- One should always choose the eco-friendly options wherever available.
- Always check for quality certification before buying the masks. Various government agencies provide quality certifications. For example, in India, the Bureau of Indian Safety (BIS) provides the certifications, and in US the accreditation is provided by the National Institute of Occupational Saftey and Health (NIOSH).
Former Senior Editor at Candid.Technology. Hemant has a keen interest in social issues and international relations.