Right now face masks have become part of our daily routines due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Before all this, we only saw them on healthcare workers during medical procedures, and we weren’t familiar with the different types of face masks there were. Now, they’re a central topic of discussion, and we’ve been hearing a lot about N95 masks, surgical masks, KN95 masks, reusable cloth masks, and face shields, particularly inside the United States.
The coronavirus pandemic changed most of our lives, and N95 respirators are now an essential item for many people, as well as a scarce one. Authorities like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend the use of cloth masks along with other protective items to the general public, but the panic is still inside a lot of us. In the beginning, many people began to buy personal protective equipment (PPE) like N95 masks in bulk or wholesale, while healthcare workers inside the USA were fighting to get their hands on them.
We’ve come a long way since the more fearful days of the beginning of the year, but PPE is still a new subject to many people who get confused with all the terms used all the time. The term FFP has been thrown around a lot, and many people don’t know what that is. Today, we’ll discuss this, and whether or not N95 masks are considered as such.
FFP: a general explanation
FFP is an acronym we’ve heard a lot during the last several months in which medical PPE has been covered widely on the news and talked about online. Shortages and all the other concerns surrounding them have been at the forefront of discussion, and maybe you’ve encountered this term when researching N95 masks and medical PPE in general.
The acronym stands for ‘filtering facepiece’, which is a pretty self-explanatory term. This refers to any kind of particulate respirator where the filter is part of the mask, the facepiece, in an integral way. It can also mean that the entire facepiece, meaning the mask, is composed of a filtering material. Essentially what this means is that the main difference between these and other respirators is that the face mask and the filtering media are not separate.
The term filtering facepiece also refers to negative-pressure particulate respirators, meaning that the air pressure inside the respirator is negative in respect to the pressure on the outer side of the mask during inhalation. The negative pressure is produced by the wearer when they inhale. As we’ll discuss below, just like N95 masks, filtering facepieces need to be NIOSH, an institution we’ll talk more about later as well.
They’ve been used widely to protect the wearers from dangerous particles that could be contained in the environment, including bioaerosols like the coronavirus or the flu virus, as well as dust, smoke, and other types of particles that can be dangerous to the airways when exposed to them chronically or acutely.
N95 masks: are they FFPs?
N95 masks have been some of the most popular respirators in the world during this year, and with the COVID-19 health emergency, they’ve become a scarce and valuable resource for healthcare workers in particular. Stores, both physical and online, are selling out of them. The importance of these face masks come from the great function and antiviral properties it offers, which make it one of the best face mask for virus protection available at the moment. This is the reason they’ve been reserved for workers at the frontline of the pandemic, particularly those in healthcare centers.
The name of this respirator comes from the classification for respirators established by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, also known as NIOSH, the institution we mentioned above. This federal agency, part of the CDC, has the goal to, based on scientific research, make recommendations and to offer information to workplaces to prevent occupational injuries or illnesses. As part of their job to meet this goal, they regulate respirators too.
The NIOSH classification is a system that names and groups respirators based on two features: oil resistance and filtration efficacy. The letter at the start of the respirator’s name indicates the first one, with three different letters possible: N, for not resistant, R for resistant, and P for oil-proof. The number that comes after it indicates the filtration rate, which can be either 95, 99, or 100%.
According to their classification, ‘N95’ means that the respirator isn’t resistant to oil and has a percentage of minimum particulate filtration efficacy of 95%. This makes them effective to protect the user against non-oil based particles, like dust, smoke, and viruses, which can be dangerous to their health.
To be manufactured and distributed as an N95 mask, it must be approved by NIOSH, as we mentioned earlier. This makes sure the mask has met the standards and criteria set by them to be considered an N95 respirator. Anyone who uses a counterfeit mask is at risk of inhaling harmful particles. For their use as medical PPE, additional approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is needed as well.
After explaining both N95 respirators and FFPs, we can conclude that the first are considered a part of the latter group. N95 masks are negative pressure respirators where an integral part of the mask is made up of the filtering media. So, N95 respirators are an FFP.
Medical-grade face masks like the 3M N95 masks, including the 3M 8210 and 3M 8511 models, have been reserved for workers at the frontlines of the pandemic. Options for alternatives recommended to be used by the general public are widely available for sale online, including disposable face masks in a smaller size for kids.