by Amy Hornblas
By recommending it’s “time to get out the N-95’s” again for use during flood clean-up, Dr. Levine is crossing a serious line.
N-95’s are considered official “respirators” according to OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration). OSHA has an entire set of standards to protect employees who wear them in workplace settings.
OSHA recommends the use of N-95’s in order to protect the lungs from mold and dust particles which may be dispersed into the air while doing actions such as demolition of water-damaged materials or using fans in indoor spaces. Their Information Bulletin titled A Brief Guide to Mold in the Workplace includes information and suggestions which would be of use to residents and employers conducting flood clean-up.
One of the important points the OSHA document contains is this reminder to employers:
“As specified by OSHA in 29 CFR 1910.134 individuals who use respirators [N-95’s and Dust Masks] must be properly trained, have medical clearance, and be properly fit tested before they begin using a respirator. In addition, use of respirators requires the employer to develop and implement a written respiratory protection program…”
Medical clearance means conducting a 10 page review of the numerous health and work conditions which may make wearing a respirator more dangerous for that individual.
Fit-tested means the wearer is given a respirator that fits their face tightly, and are trained on how to wear it properly, so that it will work.
A respiratory protection program is a multi-step process which assures that employers are doing their best to avoid and/or mitigate the known harms which can be caused by respirator use.
Why so many requirements? Because if they are not used properly, respirators will not work, and can cause an even greater hazard, in and of themselves. Especially for people with pre-existing conditions, in hot conditions, and those who are wearing them for prolonged periods.
Sound like anybody you know conducting flood clean-up?
Perhaps Dr. Levine’s advice around the use of respirators lacks these details because he is not a PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) expert. Doctors are trained and supervised in their own PPE use by industrial hygienists and other environmental health and safety professionals, which is a specialty requiring years of training in subjects doctors learn nothing about.
At least this time, Dr. Levine is recommending the appropriate protection: N-95’s. This time he is not suggesting people use cloth or medical masks, or inferior K-95’s, since it takes a very tight seal, as well as a high-quality product, in order to keep those dust and mold particles out of your lungs.
However, that tight seal comes at a cost. N-95’s have a very tight seal that makes it much more difficult to breathe, talk through, and work with one on. In response to Covid, the Center for Disease Control encourages people to choose other types of masks (cloth or medical) if they find it is too difficult to breathe through an N-95. They also warn that about 60% of the K-95’s were of poor quality. (K-95 is a respirator made in China- it was approved for emergency use in the U.S. to meet the demand during Covid.)
If the masks people have been wearing for the past three years are unable to keep out mold and dust particles, then clearly their gaps are too large to keep out Covid-carrying aerosolized droplets.
In other words, they never worked for Covid, either.
Perhaps now would be a good time to ask why we’ve been encouraged to wear “face coverings” in the first place? Countless people are still wearing them- and requiring them of others- in the belief that they are beneficial and harmless, yet they are neither.
Only two months ago OSHA-trained experts came to Vermont to raise awareness of the harms caused by the inappropriate use of masks, and to address the fact that medical settings and schools in the state are still enforcing mask mandates on patients, staff, and children.
Information is power, and our rights are not going to defend themselves. It’s time for a second opinion from the real experts in the field, the ones who are transparent about the benefits, limits, and risks associated with their recommendations.
Check out these resources to learn more:
• OSHA’s A Brief Guide to Mold in the Workplace: https://www.osha.gov/publications/shib101003
• OSHA’s standards pertaining to respiratory protection in the workplace: https://www.osha.gov/laws-regs/regulations/standardnumber/1910/1910.134
• CDC’s Mask Guidance page: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting sick/types-of-masks.html
• To learn more about the respiratory hazards of masks, and hear the speakers who came to Vermont last spring to raise awareness, go to: vtmasksurvey.com
Author is a health educator with vtmasksurvey.com.