The effectiveness of respiratory protection worn by communities to protect from volcanic ash inhalation; Part II: Total inward leakage tests

Susanne Steinle, Anne J. Sleeuwenhoek, William Mueller, Claire J. Horwell, Andrew Apsley, Alice Davis, John W. Cherrie, Karen S. Galea

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46 Citations (Scopus)
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Inhalation of ash can be of great concern for affected communities, during and after volcanic eruptions. Governmental and humanitarian agencies recommend and distribute a variety of respiratory protection (RP), most commonly surgical masks. However, there is currently no evidence on how effective such masks are in protecting wearers from volcanic ash. In Part I of this study (Mueller et al., 2018), we assessed the filtration efficiency (FE) of 17 materials from different forms of RP against volcanic ash and a surrogate, low-toxicity dust, Aloxite. Based on those results, we now present the findings from a volunteer simulation study to test the effect of facial fit through assessment of Total Inward Leakage (TIL).

Four different disposable RP types that demonstrated very high median FE (≥96% for Aloxite; ≥89% for volcanic ash) were tested without provision of training on fit. These were an industry-certified mask (N95-equiv.); a surgical mask from Japan designed to filter PM2.5; a flat-fold basic mask from Indonesia; and a standard surgical mask from Mexico, which was also tested with an added medical bandage on top, as an additional intervention to improve fit.

Ten volunteers (6 female, 4 male) were recruited. Each RP type was worn by volunteers under two different conditions simulating cleaning-up activities during/after volcanic ashfall. Each activity lasted 10 min and two repeats were completed for each RP type per activity. Dust (as PM2.5) concentration inside and outside the mask was measured with two TSI SidePak aerosol monitors (Models AM510 and AM520, TSI, Minnesota, USA) to calculate TIL. A questionnaire was administered after each test to collect perceptions of fit, comfort, protection and breathability.

The best-performing RP type, across both activities, was the industry-certified N95-equiv. mask with 9% mean TIL. The standard surgical mask and the basic flat-fold mask both performed worst (35% TIL). With the additional bandage intervention, the surgical mask mean TIL improved to 24%. The PM2.5 surgical mask performed similarly, with 22% TIL. The N95-equiv. mask was perceived to provide the best protection, but was also perceived as being uncomfortable and more difficult to breathe through.

This study provides a first objective evidence base for the effectiveness of a selection of RP types typically worn around the world during volcanic crises. The findings will help agencies to make informed decisions on the procurement and distribution of RP in future eruptions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)977-984
Number of pages8
JournalInternational Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health
Issue number6
Early online date28 Mar 2018
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2018


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