With the novel coronavirus outbreak globally, many people are understandably concerned about their health and safety.
In this post we’ll look at the difference between masks, respirators, and filtering standards such as N95 and FFP2/FFP3…
Masks vs Respirators
Before we go any further, lets just clarify on a technical difference between a “mask” and a “respirator”. In day to day language we often say mask, when referring to what are technically called respirators.
Uses for Masks:
- Masks are loose fitting, covering the nose and mouth
- Designed for one way protection, to capture bodily fluid leaving the wearer
- Example – worn during surgery to prevent coughing, sneezing, etc on the vulnerable patient
- Contrary to belief, masks are NOT designed to protect the wearer
- The vast majority of masks do not have a safety rating assigned to them (e.g. NIOSH or EN)
Uses for Respirators:
- Respirators are tight fitting masks, designed to create a facial seal
- Non-valved respirators provide good two way protection, by filtering both inflow and outflow of air
- These are designed protect the wearer (when worn properly), up to the safety rating of the mask
- Available as disposable, half face or full face
Whilst surgical style masks are not redundant by any means (discussed more below), they aren’t designed to protect the wearer, whilst respirators are.
The US Center for Disease Control (CDC) cites the N95 respirator standard as part of the advised protective equipment in their Covid-19 FAQ and their SARS guidance (SARS being a similar type of Corona virus). Which suggests that an N95 or better respirator is acceptable.
N95 vs FFP3 & FFP2
The most commonly discussed respirator type is N95. This is an American standard managed by NIOSH – part of the Center for Disease Control (CDC).
Europe uses two different standards. The “filtering face piece” score (FFP) comes from EN standard 149:2001. Then EN 143 standard covers P1/P2/P3 ratings. Both standards are maintained by CEN (European Committee for Standardization).
Let’s see how all the different standards compare:
As you can see, the closest European equivalent to N95 are FFP2 / P2 rated respirators, which are rated at 94%, compared to the 95% of N95.
Similarly, the closest to N100 are P3 rated respirators – with FFP3 following closely behind.
You could approximate things to say:
KN95 vs N95
Whilst theoretically the Chinese KN95 standard has the same specification as N95 respirators – see 3M document (link) – to quote “it is reasonable to consider China KN95, AS/NZ P2, Korea 1st Class, and Japan DS FFRs as equivalent to US NIOSH N95 and European FFP2 respirators”. In practice the issue is more complex, and I wouldn’t take for granted that all KN95 respirators are up to the same standard as US N95 or EU FFP2 respirators.
Things to watch out for:
- No guarantee that all KN95 respirators *actually* meet the Chinese KN95 standard – watch out for scams
- Also check to make sure there’s a good seal around face / some padding for comfort / tie around face straps with adequate strength and tension
Are N95/N100 actually better than FFP2/P3?
Not neccessarily, it’s important to note that these standards only specify the minimum % of particles that the respirator filters. For example, if a mask is FFP2 rated, it will filter at least 94% of particles that are 0.3 microns in diameter or larger. But in practice it will filter somewhere between 94% and 99%. The precise figure will often be quoted by the manufacturer in the product description.
A good example is the GVS Elipse respirator, which in the USA (link) is rated at P100 (99.7%), and in Europe (link) is rated at P3 (99.95%). In practice it’s likely to have the same filtering capacity in both regions.
One hack to protect (and respect) others when wearing a valved respirator is to put a surgical mask or “cloth face covering” over the valved respirator, to (partially) filter the out breath.
How big is the Coronavirus, and can respirators filter it?
TL;DR – yes, respirators with high efficiency at 0.3 micron particle size (N95/FFP2 or better) can in theory filter particles down to the size of the coronavirus (which is around 0.1 microns). What that doesn’t tell us is how much protection respirators will provide against coronavirus when in use – we will need to wait for future studies to confirm.
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Source & original article: https://fastlifehacks.com/n95-vs-ffp/