Face masks are currently part of our daily lives since the COVID-19 pandemic began at the beginning of the year. Before the pandemic, face masks were only seen being used by healthcare providers during surgeries and certain medical or dental procedures. But, for most of the year, they’ve been the focus and the main topic of discussion, with N95 masks, KN95 masks, reusable cloth masks, face shields, and surgical masks being terms frequently talked about in the news or online inside the United States.
N95 respirators in particular have become an essential and crucial part of the personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers during the pandemic. They’re not only valuable, but they’re equally as scarce, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommending the general public to use other alternatives, particularly cloth masks.
However, many people began to buy N95 masks in bulk and wholesale before the COVID-19 cases began to increase, victims to the panic and fear of the unknown. Now, they’re very hard to find for sale, and healthcare workers are struggling to find these masks in the USA. Nine months into the pandemic we’re still talking about PPE, with a new surge in cases threatening to cause a new shortage inside the country.
One term that isn’t used as widely is FFP, and you might have heard it and asked yourself what that acronym means. In this article, we’ll discuss what constitutes an FFP, and whether or not N95 masks are considered one.
What are FFP masks?
The acronym FFP means ‘filtering facepiece’ and after reading the definition, you’ll understand that this name is pretty self-explanatory. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defines FFPs as any type of particulate respirator in which the filter media is an integral part of the facepiece, that is, the mask itself. The term can also refer to respirators in which the entire mask or facepiece is composed of the filter. In both instances, it means that the mask or facepiece isn’t separate from the filter.
According to the FDA, an FFP also has to be a negative-pressure respirator. This refers to any mask or respirator in which the air on the inner side of the respirator is negative in comparison to the air pressure of the environment, which is the outer side of the respirator. This negative pressure is created when the person inhales, and it ensures all the air is going through the filter and the harmful particles. Just like N95 masks, as we’ll explain later, all FFPs need approval by an institution called NIOSH to be considered legitimate.
These types of face masks have been used in many workplaces to protect the workers against particles known as respiratory hazards, which means they’re dangerous and detrimental to the person’s health when they’re inhaled. These particles include bioaerosols like the flu virus or the novel coronavirus, as well as others like smoke and dust.
Are N95 masks considered FFPs?
At the moment, N95 masks are one of the most widely used face masks this year, and during the COVID-19 pandemic, they’ve become as scarce as they’re valuable for healthcare providers and other frontline essential workers. Both physical and online stores have been sold out of them, and this value comes from their great antiviral properties effective to protect against this virus. This makes them the best disposable face mask for virus protection there is available at the moment, which is why they’ve been reserved to be used by healthcare workers who are in high-exposure situations.
The name ‘N95’ is given to them based on a respirator classification from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, commonly known as NIOSH. This institution is a federal agency created as part of the CDC to make recommendations and spread science-based information that can prevent work-related injuries or illnesses. To meet their goal, they also regulate respirators and certify if they meet the criteria for each respirator type.
The classification established by NIOSH names respirators based on two characteristics: one is the oil resistance, which is indicated with a letter that can be either N for not resistant, R for somewhat resistant, and P for oil-proof respirators, and the second one is the filtration rate, represented by a number that is the percentage of minimum particulate filtration efficacy, and it can be either 95, 99, or 100%.
Based on this explanation, you can now understand that N95 masks are respirators without oil resistance that can filter out at least 95% of the airborne particles from the air the wearer inhales. This makes them a good option to protect against particles that don’t contain oil, like viruses, which is why they are effective for protection against COVID-19.
N95 masks need to be tested and approved by NIOSH, certifying that they meet the requirements to be considered an N95 respirator. Anyone who uses a respirator as if it were an N95 mask and it’s not approved by NIOSH is in danger of inhaling the dangerous particles they think they’re being protected from. To be used in healthcare settings, they need additional approval by the FDA.
N95 masks are considered FFPs, since the filter media makes up the whole mask, and they are also negative-pressure respirators. The filter is usually made out of non-woven material made from polypropylene, and it covers the whole mask.
N95 masks like the 3M N95 masks in the models 3M 8210 and 3M 8511, and other medical-grade masks, have to be prioritized to be used by healthcare providers who are at the frontlines of this emergency. The general public is urged to use alternatives, mainly reusable cloth masks, and this includes kids over the age of 2 years old with masks in a size that will fit them properly.