This study investigated the filtration performance of NIOSH-approved N95 and P100 filtering facepiece respirators (FFR) against six different monodisperse silver aerosol particles in the range of 4–30 nm diameter. A particle test system was developed and standardized for measuring the penetration of monodisperse silver particles. For respirator testing, five models of N95 and two models of P100 filtering facepiece respirators were challenged with monodisperse silver aerosol particles of 4, 8, 12, 16, 20, and 30 nm at 85 L/min flow rate and percentage penetrations were measured. Consistent with single-fiber filtration theory, N95 and P100 respirators challenged with silver monodisperse particles showed a decrease in percentage penetration with a decrease in particle diameter down to 4 nm. Penetrations less than 1 particle/30 min for 4–8 nm particles for one P100 respirator model, and 4–12 nm particles for the other P100 model, were observed. Experiments were also carried out with larger than 20 nm monodisperse NaCl particles using a TSI 3160 Fractional Efficiency Tester. NaCl aerosol penetration levels of 20 nm and 30 nm (overlapping sizes) particles were compared with silver aerosols of the same sizes by a three-way ANOVA analysis. A significant (p < 0.001) difference between NaCl and silver aerosol penetration levels was obtained after adjusting for particle sizes and manufacturers. A significant (p = 0.001) interaction with manufacturers indicated the difference in NaCl, and silver aerosol penetrations were not the same across manufacturers. The two aerosols had the same effect across 20 nm and 30 nm sizes as shown by the absence of any significant (p = 0.163) interaction with particle sizes. In the case of P100 FFRs, a significant (p < 0.001) difference between NaCl and silver aerosol (20 nm and 30 nm) penetrations was observed for both respirator models tested. The filtration data for 4–30 nm monodisperse particles supports previous studies that indicate NIOSH-approved air-purifying respirators provide expected levels of filtration protection against nanoparticles.
The authors would like to acknowledge NIOSH colleagues including Heinz Ahlers, William Newcomb, Mark Hoover, and Li-Ming Lo for their critical review of the manuscript and suggestions. The authors thank Douglas Landsittel for his help with the statistical analysis of the data. The authors thank Drs. Seong Chan Kim and David Pui for their advice in setting up the silver nanoparticle test system and providing samples of Hollingsworth & Vose Co. fiber glass filter media.
Mention of commercial product or trade name does not constitute endorsement by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. The findings and conclusions of this report are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.