Portable face masks for sub-1-micron materials?
October 23, 2012 9:58 PM   Subscribe

Face masks: the smallest/lightest option that's effective against sub-1-micron materials?

Specifically cigarette smoke, which ranges from 0.1 to 1 micron and averages about 0.3 microns. What I've found so far:

- standard allergy masks and in-nostril filters don't work for cigarette smoke, which is about a hundred times smaller than most pollens (pollens average 25-30 microns);

- "negative ion"-based, around-the-neck air filters seem to be ineffective in this case and are potentially dangerous anyway;

- I can find lists of options for industrial-level protection, but they don't seem to be rated in terms of microns. (I will put in a few email queries to supply companies once I understand better what I'm asking for.)

To the extent this matters, it seems to be the toxins rather than the smoke itself; I don't seem to have any physical/breathing issues with cigarette smoke. I just get increasingly lightheaded, nauseated, and out of it (trouble thinking/talking, focusing my eyes, etc.).

This is a question about masks/filtration; I'm not remotely asking about how to change anyone's behavior/culture. (The few threads I've found elsewhere on this topic all deteriorated fast into debates about smoking; let's not do that here!) Asking because of future travels where my best possible planning may still leave me in some smoky environments I can't slip out of right away, so the solution at those times will be putting on the most travel-friendly mask that will actually help me (hopefully something below gas mask-level weight/bulk).
posted by kalapierson to Health & Fitness (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I think the thing you're looking for is "nuisance odor relief."
posted by xyzzy at 10:18 PM on October 23, 2012

Response by poster: Thank you xyzzy, that's a great search phrase! Those products talk about protecting against chemical fumes that, on googling, I see are similar to or smaller than cigarette smoke. Not 100% protection, but around 95% -- totally acceptable balance in my case between effectiveness and size/weight.
posted by kalapierson at 10:31 PM on October 23, 2012

Best answer: This is kind of a spitbally answer because it isn't completely clear (perhaps even to you) what you need to remove from the air you're breathing, but as xyzzy suggested I think you may want something that can catch volatile organic compounds rather than particles down to a certain size. From How Tobacco Smoke Causes Disease: The Biology and Behavioral Basis for Smoking-Attributable Disease: A Report of the Surgeon General (Chapter 3, Chemistry and Toxicology of Cigarette Smoke and Biomarkers of Exposure and Harm):
Individual chemical constituents may be found in the particulate phase, the gas phase, or both (Guerin 1980). As cigarette smoke dissipates, chemicals may pass between the particulate and gas phases (Löfroth 1989). The gas phase contains gases and chemical constituents that are sufficiently volatile to remain in the gas phase long enough to pass through the Cambridge glass fiber filter ["designed to collect aerosol particles of 0.3 micrometers (μm) or larger with an efficiency not less than 99 percent "] (Guerin 1980), [...] The gas phase of cigarette smoke includes nitrogen (N2), oxygen (O2), carbon dioxide (CO2), CO, acetaldehyde, methane, hydrogen cyanide (HCN), nitric acid, acetone, acrolein, ammonia, methanol, hydrogen sulfide (H2S), hydrocarbons, gas phase nitrosamines, and carbonyl compounds (Borgerding and Klus 2005; Rodgman and Perfetti 2009). [...] The PAHs in the gas phase were only 1 percent of total PAHs, and the PAH distribution between gas and particulate phases varied with the boiling point of the PAHs (Grimmer et al. 1987).
So, to that end, you want a mask which contains activated charcoal/carbon, which packs an incomprehensible, reticulated surface area into a small volume and tiny diffusion distance ("A gram of activated carbon can have a surface area in excess of 500 m2, with 1500 m2 being readily achievable"). VOCs stick to this surface at a molecular level.

Surgical-style masks are available for "nuisance-level" exposure, though my experience (mostly painting with oil-based paint) is that the canister-style respirators are far more effective.

Be cautious about which product you select as some of the marketing seems to be aimed at the woo-woo/MCS audience--I suspect that these may offer limited effectiveness at an inflated price.
posted by pullayup at 10:45 PM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also, if you're looking at masks intended to remove particulates, they are generally rated by percent effectiveness rather than a size in microns (i.e. N95 removes 95% of airborne particles, N99 catches 99%, etc).
posted by pullayup at 11:00 PM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks, I really appreciate these answers!

I narrowed it down to two disposable 3M particulate respirators, the 8233 (rated N100) and the 8511 (rated N95). Both cheap, so I'll order an 8233 and if it feels breathable enough, then it's my answer; if not, I'll try the 8511.
posted by kalapierson at 11:22 PM on October 23, 2012

If you want to avoid the woo-woo market, buy it at an auto body shop.
posted by echo target at 1:51 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

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