Protecting Your Lungs


Whenever an event occurs that brings too much water into our homes it is important for us to consider the health effects of the air that we are breathing. Recently, Hurricane Harvey has created this sort of environment in which over 200,000 homes have been flooded. The following information is designed to help you become aware of the health issues, and to inform you about some protective equipment that is available.

In 2004, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) reviewed the literature regarding health outcomes related to damp indoor spaces. In addition to the risk for opportunistic fungal infections in immuno-compromised persons, IOM found sufficient evidence for an association between both damp indoor spaces and mold and upper respiratory symptoms (nasal congestion and throat irritation) and lower respiratory symptoms (cough, wheeze, and exacerbation of asthma).

A variety of respirators are available to help protect against breathing harmful gases and particles during disaster recovery. In order for a respirator to be effective it must be used properly. Improper use of respirators can be dangerous. According to the EPA – the minimum respiratory protection that should be worn when working around or disturbing mold is an N-95 disposable face piece respirator. If chemicals are present or being used, then additional protection is needed.

N-95 Disposable Face Piece Respirator


After hurricane Katrina, the CDC found that about one out of three recovery and aid workers were not able to identify what a proper filter respirator was by looking at pictures. In addition, according to a study published in the Journal of Emerging Infectious Disease, only 24% (129 of 538) wore the N95 respirator devices properly. The most common errors were not tightening the nose clip (71%), incorrectly placing the straps (52%), and wearing the respirator upside down (22%).

When an N95 is properly worn, it will reduce about 80% of particles inhaled. This type of respirator Does Not reduce chemicals such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) or chlorine bleach.

How to Use a Disposable Respirator from the CDC


Other Respirators


The Half-Face Respirator will provide a 90% reduction in particulate exposure when properly fitted and worn. The cartridges shown in this illustration are for particles only. Other cartridges are available that can help filter a variety of chemicals. The Half-Face Respirator is a tight fitting respirator.

Not everyone should wear tight fitting respirators. In order to pull the air through the cartridges – the wearer must have healthy lungs. OSHA requires that workers wearing tight fitting respirator should have training, a medical evaluation and fit testing.


The Full-Face Respirator will provide a 98% reduction in particulate exposure when properly fitted and worn. The cartridges shown in this illustration are for particles only. Other cartridges are available that can help filter a variety of chemicals. The Half-Face Respirator is a tight fitting respirator.

Not everyone should wear tight fitting respirators. In order to pull the air through the cartridges – the wearer must have healthy lungs. OSHA requires that workers wearing tight fitting respirator should have training, a medical evaluation and fit testing.

Respirator Cartridges


This is an example of a cartridge that is used to protect against both particulate (pink part of cartridge is a HEPA filter) and organic vapors (black part of cartridge is activated carbon). The two cartridge components have been piggy-backed together. The musty odors produced by bacteria and mold are gases which can be filtered out by the organic vapor part of the cartridge. This cartridge does not protect against chlorine bleach which is an Acid Gas.


The yellow strip on this cartridge indicates it is both for organic vapors (musty odors) and Acid Gases (chlorine bleach). The pink part of the cartridge is a HEPA filter is 99.97% effective against particles that are 0.3 microns in size.

In most cases respirator cartridges should be changed after 8 hours of use or sooner if resistance to breathing is noted. The instructions that come with the respirator should be carefully reviewed. If a respirator isn't used properly it won't be effective.

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