Respiratory PPE and Mold Remediation

March 8, 2005
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Mold remediation is a rapidly growing field. Recognizing this, 3M Co. has provided some basic information on the health hazards associated with mold and proper use of respirators during mold remediation.

Q:Why should I be concerned about being exposed to mold?
A: Mold is a type of fungus that can grow and live in organic matter, including many building materials, especially when elevated moisture levels are present. Some molds release spores that are small enough to remain airborne. Fungi can also release low levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are thought to be the source of odors associated with mold and mildew.

Molds are known to cause a variety of health effects if spores are inhaled into lungs, swallowed, or if they get into the eyes, nose or open cuts. These health effects may include allergenic affects, asthma, runny nose, eye infection, dizziness, fatigue, nausea, irritation of the eyes, skin, nose, throat and lungs, as well as infection of immune-compromised or immune-suppressed individuals. It is recommended that all persons with asthma, hypersensitivity pneumonitis, severe allergies, immune suppression, or other chronic inflammatory lung diseases be removed from the mold-contaminated area until remediation is complete.

Q: Will wearing a respirator protect me from exposure to mold?
A: Use of respiratory protection products, along with the appropriate gloves, goggles, disposable coveralls, full body clothing, head gear, and foot coverings, may help reduce exposure to certain airborne contaminants including those from mold; however, respirators cannot guarantee the elimination of exposure or the risk of contracting illness, disease or infections.

Misuse of respirators may result in sickness or death. Therefore it is very important that you read all the user instructions that come with a respirator, and wear the respirator at all times when you are in the contaminated area.

Q: What type of respirator should I wear to reduce exposure to mold?
A: Currently, there are no published exposure limits for mold. However, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the New York City Department of Health have published recommendations on selecting respirators for mold remediation activities based upon the size of the contaminated area.

For areas less than 10 square feet, filtering-facepiece respirators (N95 disposable respirators) or half masks with replaceable particulate filters may be used in conjunction with non-vented goggles. For areas between 10 and 100 square feet, either a half mask with non-vented face goggles or full-facepiece respirators with 100-level particulate filters should be used. Full-facepiece respirators with 100-level particle filters should be used for remediation of areas greater than 100 square feet. The full facepiece may also be used as part of a powered air purifying respirator (PAPR) system. Professional judgment should also be used depending upon the toxicity of the mold (if known), possibility of hidden mold, potential for aerosolizing the mold, and the needs of the wearer.

Q: What types of cartridges or filters should I use to reduce exposure to the microbial VOCs or the disinfectants?
A: In order to reduce exposure to the VOCs that are produced by mold, 3M recommends the use of a particle filter with nuisance level organic vapor relief or an organic vapor cartridge in addition to the particle filter mentioned above. Gases and vapors associated with disinfectants (e.g. chlorine or ammonia) should be measured, and may warrant the use of an appropriate chemical cartridge in conjunction with the particulate filter. Cartridges and filters are available for half masks, full facepieces or PAPRs, depending upon the concentration level of the disinfectants.

A change schedule for the chemical cartridges should be implemented based upon the chemical concentration. Respirators that offer higher levels of protection are available if the concentrations are immediately dangerous to life or health (IDLH) or if the oxygen concentration is less than 19.5 percent. This may be a concern especially when working in confined spaces.

Q: What type of training is required before wearing a respirator?
A: Training in respiratory protection by qualified individuals must be performed before engaging in any remediation activity. The use of NIOSH-certified respirators in workplace environments must be accompanied by a full respiratory protection program as specified in OSHA 29 CFR 1910.134. Important components of a respiratory protection program include written standard operating procedures, medical evaluation, user training, respirator cleaning and maintenance, and properly fitting the respirator to the user. Half-mask and full-facepiece respirators (including those used in powered-air and supplied-air systems) are not protective if facial hair interferes with the face seal, since proper fit cannot be assured.

For more information on mold remediation from the EPA and the New York City Department of Health, please see:
The United States Environmental Protection Agency at http://www.epa.gov/iaq/molds/index.html.
The New York City Department of Health, Bureau of Environmental & Occupational Disease Epidemiology at http://www.ci.nyc.ny.us/html/doh/html/epi/moldrpt1.html.

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