Aerosol penetration through filtering facepieces and respirator cartridges

Air-purifying respirators must be certified following the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) filter test criteria (30 CFR 11). The criteria specify a range for the mean particle size and the measure of spread permissible for the test aerosol. The authors' experiments have shown that aerosol penetration as a function of particle size differs considerably among certified respirators of the same type. Filtering facepieces (disposable respirators) and cartridges of the dust-mist, dust-mist-fume, and high-efficiency particulate air type were tested. The respirators were sealed to mannequins in a test chamber. The aerosol concentrations inside and outside the respirator were measured by an aerodynamic particle sizer and a laser aerosol spectrometer over a particle size range of 0.1 to 15 µm. Five flow rates ranging from 5 to 100 L/min were used to study flow dependency. The aerosol penetration through the filters is presented as a function of particle size. Aerosol penetration and pressure drop are combined to express the performance of each filter in terms of “ quality factor.” Under the same test conditions, the quality factor of one respirator may be as much as 6.6 times more than that of another respirator of the same type. The filter quality factor has a greater aerosol size dependency as airflow and aerosol size increase. In general, cartridges have a larger surface area than filtering facepieces but not necessarily lower filter penetration or higher filter quality. An analysis of the data shows that the best dust-mist respirator tested may provide five times more protection than the worst dust-mist respirator tested when exposed to the aerosol size distribution specified by the NIOSH filter test criteria.