Respiratory masks safeguard lungs

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The harvest season will reach Carroll County before we know it, and there are some key safety considerations to keep in mind as we work out in the fields.

Use respiratory protection to safeguard your lungs against dust and debris as you harvest crops, clean out grain bins, open silos, strip tobacco, and perform other seasonal farming activities.

A disposable toxic dust respirator will filter out fine dust particles that can deeply penetrate the lungs. It will protect against potentially harmful airborne agents such as grain dust and mold from grain, hay or silage. 

Agricultural workers should use a toxic dust respirator anytime they might be exposed to dusty operations or activities.

Using an approved toxic dust respirator can prevent the respiratory symptoms commonly associated with working in confinement facilities, as well as the onset of the flu-like illness that occurs four to six hours after exposure to big amounts of moldy materials.

An N95 is the most common respirator for agricultural uses. The “N” indicates that it is intended for oil-free dust and that number means the filter is 95 percent efficient in removing irrespirable or fine dust that can penetrate deep into the lungs. 

An N100 type is rated at 99.9 percent efficient and also is available.

Disposable toxic dust respirators are made of a heavier filter material with two straps. The box or container has an approval label from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).  Most have an adjustable nose band to provide a good fit, and most are available in different sizes to accommodate most facial sizes and shapes.

Respirators also may have exhalation valves to improve user comfort. A box of 10 to 20 of these respirators usually costs only a few dollars.

A cartridge-type, half-mask respirator is most often used for pesticides or chemical exposures.  These respirators have both a chemical cartridge, to protect you from vapors and designated gases, and an N95 or N100 mechanical filter for dust protection. 

They are available either as disposable respirators or reusable with replaceable cartridges.

A P95 or P100 dust filter is required for oil-based pesticides. The “P” indicates that the filter is oil-proof or resistant to oils for more than eight hours of exposure.

Disposable dust masks and cartridge respirators are considered air purifiers and will not protect you against a potentially life-threatening environment, such as toxic gases or reduced oxygen levels.  Entry into this type of situation requires a respirator that will supply fresh air.

A self-contained breathing apparatus, like a firefighter would wear, is used in potentially life-threatening environments, such as entering manure pits, air-tight silos or other enclosed or confined areas with low oxygen levels or with potentially dangerous gases or fumes.

For everyone’s protection, know the types of potentially harmful dusts and other hazards in the workplace, have appropriate respiratory protection available, and be sure it is the right size and shape to properly fit and provide adequate protection.

Using disposable masks against nontoxic or nuisance dust also is a good way to protect you from allergies while working in the yard or garden. Keep in mind that these masks are ineffective for most agricultural uses. They only are effective for pollen or irritating dust that doesn’t pose a serious health hazard, but may cause upper-respiratory reactions such as sneezing or a stuffy nose.

Dates of Interest

Aug. 28: Welcome Reception for Joyce Doyle, new Carroll County 4-H Agent, 4:30-6:30 p.m., Carroll County Extension Office.

Aug. 28: Carroll County Extension District Board Meeting, 6:30 p.m., Carroll County Extension Office.


Christin Herbst is the Carroll County Extension agent for agriculture and natural resources. Call her at (502) 732-7030 or send e-mail to Christin.Herbst@uky.edu.