Industry Certified Masks Offer Better Protection from Volcanic Ash

11.09.2018

The research carried out in partnership with IOM, and Institute of Hazard, Risk and Resilience at Durham University, UK tested a range of respiratory protection frequently used by communities affected by volcanic ash, including bandanas, surgical masks and more sophisticated industry-certified ‘N95’ masks.

In recent months, erupting volcanoes have affected Hawaii, Guatemala and Bali. Volcanic ash can induce symptoms such as coughing, breathlessness and wheezing as well as exacerbate pre-existing conditions such as asthma and bronchitis.

The results show that surgical masks, while having good filtration, usually fit so poorly that they are less effective than industry-certified masks, which are designed to fit well. The research also showed that cloth materials, like bandanas and T-shirts, commonly used as an informal method of respiratory protection, are very poor at filtering particles.

Dr Horwell, from the Institute of Hazard, Risk and Resilience at Durham University, UK said: “Surgical masks are a commonly distributed form of respiratory protection and our study raises important questions around this, and the need for agencies to provide information regarding their effectiveness.

“Our study provides recommendations based on solid evidence, which are now informing aid agencies, health departments, and individuals about the most effective forms of protection against volcanic ash. These recommendations are also helping communities avoid developing a false sense of security from wearing protection that may not be as effective as they think.”

The team have used the results of their study to develop recommended actions which are now available on the website of the International Volcanic Health Hazard Network, the umbrella organisation for research and public dissemination on volcano health issues, which is run by Dr Horwell.

Dr Karen Galea, IOM, explained: “When respiratory protection is distributed to communities affected by volcanic ash, there is not necessarily any advice or training given on how to achieve the best facial fit.

“Overall, the industry-certified N95 masks performed best. However, these masks are not without their challenges. Not only do they tend to cost more than commonly distributed surgical masks but, also, they are often bulkier, giving rise to logistical challenges around storage.

“Our volunteers did observe the industry-certified masks as being uncomfortable to wear but perceived this mask as providing the most protection due to sturdiness and fit.”

The study, published in two papers in the International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health, is part of the Health Interventions in Volcanic Eruptions (HIVE) project, funded by ELRAH’s Research for Health in Humanitarian Crises Programme which aims to improve health outcomes by strengthening the evidence base for public health interventions in humanitarian crises

The team are presenting their findings at two major conferences this year; the Cities on Volcanoes 10 conference in Naples, Italy and the 9th International Conference on the Science of Exposure Assessment (x2018) in Manchester, UK.

The HIVE project, of which this study has been a part, has also conducted social surveys with affected communities to understand the factors that influence whether people will wear respiratory protection. The social surveys were carried out in partnership with the University of Indonesia, Kagoshima University, Japan and Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Mexico.

Useful web links
Institute for Hazard, Risk and Resilience, Durham University https://www.dur.ac.uk/ihrr/

Department of Earth Sciences, Durham University https://www.dur.ac.uk/earth.sciences/

International Volcanic Health Hazard Network https://www.ivhhn.org/

International Volcanic Health Hazard Network ash protection pages http://www.ivhhn.org/ash-protection

Health Interventions in Volcanic Eruptions (HIVE) project webpage: http://community.dur.ac.uk/hive.consortium/

Research for Health in Humanitarian Crises (R2HC) Programme http://www.elrha.org/map-location/hive-durham-call2/

About the Author
Dr Karen Galea Head of Workplace Exposure Science

Karen is Head of Workplace Exposure Science in our Research Division. She is actively involved in a wide variety of research projects, mainly focused on exposure assessment relating to health risks. Her workplace based research has included inhalation, dermal and biomonitoring exposure assessment in a range of industrial sectors, exposure model validation and evaluation, historical hygiene assessment etc. Her research has also extended beyond the working environment e.g. pesticide biomonitoring in residents living near agricultural land, consumer exposure to diesel and lubricating oils, use of low cost sensors by citizens and use of respiratory protection against volcanic ash.

Contact Details:

Qualifications:

  • PhD Environmental Medicine
  • MSc Occupational Hygiene
  • BSc (Hons) Environmental Health (First Class)

Committee and Society Memberships:

  • Board Councillor - Private Sector for the International Society of Exposure Science
  • Member of the British Occupational Hygiene Society
  • Committee member of the UK & Ireland Exposure Science meetings
  • Member of the Institution of Environmental Sciences (MIEnvSc)
  • Member of the Institute of Science and Technology (MIScT)
  • Member of the ISO/TC 146/SC 2/WG 8 "Assessment of contamination of skin and surfaces from airborne chemicals" committees
  • Member of the British Standards Institute ‘EH/002/02 Work place atmospheres’ committee

Research Interests:

Highlighted current research interests include:

  • HBM4EU - https://www.hbm4eu.eu/, in particular the European human biological monitoring study on occupational exposure to hexavalent chromium.
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