Laboratory Evaluation of the Particle Size Effect on the Performance of an Elastomeric Half-Mask Respirator Against Ultrafine Combustion Particles


Objectives: This study quantified the particle size effect on the performance of elastomeric half-mask respirators, which are widely used by firefighters and first responders exposed to combustion aerosols.

Methods: One type of elastomeric half-mask respirator equipped with two P-100 filters was donned on a breathing manikin while challenged with three combustion aerosols (originated by burning wood, paper, and plastic). Testing was conducted with respirators that were fully sealed, partially sealed (nose area only), or unsealed to the face of a breathing manikin to simulate different faceseal leakages. Three cyclic flows with mean inspiratory flow (MIF) rates of 30, 85, and 135 L/min were tested for each combination of sealing condition and combustion material. Additional testing was performed with plastic combustion particles at other cyclic and constant flows. Particle penetration was determined by measuring particle number concentrations inside and outside the respirator with size ranges from 20 to 200 nm.

Results: Breathing flow rate, particle size, and combustion material all had significant effects on the performance of the respirator. For the partially sealed and unsealed respirators, the penetration through the faceseal leakage reached maximum at particle sizes >100 nm when challenged with plastic aerosol, whereas no clear peaks were observed for wood and paper aerosols. The particles aerosolized by burning plastic penetrated more readily into the unsealed half-mask than those aerosolized by the combustion of wood and paper. The difference may be attributed to the fact that plastic combustion particles differ from wood and paper particles by physical characteristics such as charge, shape, and density. For the partially sealed respirator, the highest penetration values were obtained at MIF = 85 L/min. The unsealed respirator had approximately 10-fold greater penetration than the one partially sealed around the bridge of the nose, which indicates that the nose area was the primary leak site.

Keywords: combustion aerosol; half-mask; manikin; particle size; penetration; respirator fit.

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