ORIGIN: Moldex Technical Services Department
REVIEWED/UPDATED: August 2021
Wildfires can result in tragic consequences including the loss of life and property. Additionally, cleanup and being unable to adequately remove oneself or their family from the smoke can be an annoyance and a hazard. Smoke is a very complex mixture of substances in various forms. Smoke resulting from fire includes gases, vapors, mists and particulates. Some of these components can be toxic if their exposures exceed certain limits. For example, some of the dangerous gaseous components include CO, CO2 and other toxic combustion products which depend on what is burning and temperature of the flames. Some of the dusts created such as soot and ash pose more of a nuisance than a health risk, although some of these substances can be toxic. This also applies to the mists formed from fires.
The health effects of smoke can be varied and include coughing, scratchy throat, sinus irritation, shortness of breath, chest pain, headache, stinging eyes, runny nose and the exacerbation of asthma attacks. Although the best method of reducing exposure and the resultant effects is removing oneself and/or family from the exposure, this is not always possible. There are situations where the use of NIOSH certified particulate respirators may be helpful in reducing exposures to the particulate portion of the smoke. These masks (also called respirators) will not remove gases or vapors and do not provide oxygen. Although the CDC does state that “An N95 mask, properly worn, will offer some protection” (see link below) these masks should be used with caution. They only provide protection if they are properly fitted. Fit testing can only be performed by someone, such as an industrial hygienist, safety professional or occupational nurse, who has been trained in the appropriate fitting procedures.
If you want to use respiratory protective equipment you should seek the advice of your local state health authority before using a respirator.
SPECIFIC INFORMATION ON THE USE OF NIOSH APPROVED RESPIRATORS
The proper use of a respirator does not ensure that you will not become sick. Before a respirator is used one must consider and be aware of the following facts:
- NIOSH certified respirators are approved for industrial use situations where an employer has a comprehensive respiratory protection program in place.
- Respirators may reduce, but will not eliminate certain hazards or risk of disease.
- Respirators must be worn throughout the entire exposure period.
- People with asthma, emphysema, other respiratory illnesses or heart disease must consult with a physician before using a respirator.
- If you experience any adverse health effects such as dizziness, nausea, difficulty breathing, or irritation you should go to a clean area and remove the mask. Do not wear the mask again until you consult with a physician.
- Moldex-Metric masks are not designed for use by children.
- Fit is of the utmost importance. A mask may not work properly unless it fits properly. One must read and comply with user instructions and also be fit tested and trained by a health and safety professional.
- One must be clean shaven when using a mask. Nothing must come between the mask and the face; this includes but is not limited to eyewear, jewelry or clothing.
- One must fully understand the limitations of the respirator. You must read all instructions, warnings and limitations that are provided on each box or bag of respirators.
For more information on respiratory protection refer to the following links:
OSHA Respiratory Protection Standard, 29CFR 1910.134:
NIOSH Fighting Wildfires:
Moldex® Respiratory Protection including; N95, N99, N100 and P100’s
Moldex® Disposable Respirators
Moldex® Fit-testing and fitting instructions:
WARNING: The information contained in this Tech Brief is dated and was accurate to the best of Moldex’s knowledge, on the date above. It is not meant to be comprehensive, nor is it intended to be used in place of the warning/use instructions that accompany Moldex respirators. Outside of the USA, check with all applicable and local government regulations.
©2003-2010 Moldex-Metric, Inc. All Rights Reserved.