seal  Purdue News

September 11, 2003

Purdue ag engineer suggests the use of certified face mask

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – A Purdue University agricultural engineer urges producers to purchase affordable, certified masks to protect against lung damage.

"Many farmers still use the inexpensive dust mask with one strap, which manufacturers often refer to as a comfort mask or nuisance dust mask, which should not be used for lung protection," said Gail Deboy, an agricultural safety specialist.

Deboy said most packages of comfort or nuisance dust masks have labeling that states the masks are not respirators, not National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) certified and should not be used for lung protection.

Certified masks have two straps for a better fit, are designed to provide a better seal around the nose and mouth, and contain an effective filtering media. Some models also include a one-way exhale valve that allows hot, moist air to escape, improving the wearer's comfort and preventing fogged glasses.

"If the mask is not a certified respirator, then it cannot be used to protect against asbestos, silica, grain dust, paint spray, wood dust or any other harmful substance," Deboy said. "If these substances get into the lungs, then sickness or death may be the result."

Adequate protection need not be expensive. Deboy said that effective masks are available for $1 to $4, and should carry a label that verifies the mask meets certification standards. He said the masks are classified as respirators even though they look very similar to the common comfort or nuisance dust masks. Certified masks and respirators can be purchased at farm supply stores and discount department stores.

"Most farmers who try these respirators notice an immediate difference in the quality of the air they breathe," Deboy said.

Once purchased, farmers should wear the masks whenever they are in a hazardous or dusty atmosphere.

"After someone has become ill from breathing moldy grain dust or hog dust they may become overly sensitized, and the next exposure may cause illness at much lower concentrations," he said.

In addition to acute illness, long-term exposure effects on lung capacity have been documented in swine farmers, Deboy said.

All respirators increase the effort required to breathe and, therefore, may cause problems for those with respiratory or pulmonary difficulties. Deboy suggests producers check with a doctor before using a respirator for an extended length of time.

For more information, contact Deboy at (765) 496-2377.

Writer: Meggie Issler, (765) 494-8402;

Source: Gail Deboy, (765) 496-2377;

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

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