Ensuring the safety of first responder gas masks

Firefighters and other first responders faced with a terrorist attack soon will breathe a little easier knowing that their gas masks have been tested to ensure they work properly under emergency response conditions.

Air purifying respirators, commonly known as gas masks, protect workers from hazards associated with chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) agents. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has teamed up with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the U.S. Army Soldier and Biological Chemical Command to develop a full suite of gas mask standards for civilian workers. The project is funded by the National Institute of Justice and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Scientists will begin live agent testing of masks this spring at the Army's Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland, one of only a few nationwide laboratories that can do such tests safely. The tests will ensure that the masks protect workers from a mustard blistering agent and from the nerve gas sarin. The tests are done on specially designed mannequins that can precisely measure minute amounts of vapor that may penetrate through the masks.

Masks worn by first responders must meet different standards from those designed for troops. Most military uses involve outdoor attacks where air currents would naturally disperse chemicals or other hazardous agents. The civilian testing procedures address release of a hazardous agent inside buildings or other closed environments. The standard will include a maximum penetration rate for hazardous substances and methods for testing the fit of gas masks for individuals.


Contact: Phil Bulman
National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

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