Why those cheap respirators won't really help you breathe through the smoke

Not all respirators will offer you protection from the fine particles in smoke.

With so much smoke in the air lately it has become a common occurrence to see people walking around Kamloops wearing cheap industrial respirators or surgical masks in an attempt to keep the fine particles in smoke out of their lungs.

But are those masks actually making a difference?

“It’s better than nothing but you get what you pay for,” says Scott McDonald, CEO of the B.C. Lung association. “The fine particles in smoke are under 5 microns in size and will go through most material, including the cheap dollar store face masks.”

Johanne Hrbinic with Independant Respiratory Services in Kamloops echoes that statement saying at around $30, the N95 industrial respirator (seen below) is the cheapest option that will give you some real protection.

A properly fitted N95 respirator mask is recommended to keep out fine particles.
A properly fitted N95 respirator mask is recommended to keep out fine particles.
Image Credit: envirosafety
“It has the viral filter that you need and you will need to be fitted for them,” says Hrbinic. “The cheaper masks are essentially like holding kleenex over your mouth and after 15 minutes they are full.”

Other options such as the 53P71 Half-Face Respirator offer more protection without adding too much cost as they are only about $10 more, however they can get uncomfortable if worn for too long in the heat.

While the plume of smoke intermittently impacting Kamloops and the rest of the interior has dissipated over the last couple days Environment Canada has kept its special air quality statement in effect, and it advises anybody with respiratory issues to find a place inside that has an air conditioner that both cools and filters air. 

To contact a reporter for this story, email Mike McDonald or call 250-819-3723 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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