The effectiveness of respiratory protection worn by communities to protect from volcanic ash inhalation. Part I: Filtration efficiency tests

William Mueller, Claire J. Horwell, Andrew Apsley, Susanne Steinle, Stephanie McPherson, John W. Cherrie, Karen S. Galea

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During volcanic eruptions and their aftermath, communities may be concerned about the impacts of inhaling volcanic ash. Access to effective respiratory protection (RP) is therefore important for many people in volcanic areas all over the world. However, evidence to support the use of effective RP during such crises is currently lacking. The aim of this study was to build the first evidence base on the effectiveness of common materials used to protect communities from ash inhalation in volcanic crises. We obtained 17 forms of RP, covering various types of cloth through to disposable masks (typically used in occupational settings), which communities are known to wear during volcanic crises. The RP materials were characterised and subjected to filtration efficiency (FE) tests, which were performed with three challenge dusts: ashes from Sakurajima (Japan) and Soufrière Hills (Montserrat) volcanoes and aluminium oxide (Aloxite), chosen as a low-toxicity surrogate dust of similar particle size distribution. FE tests were conducted at two concentrations (1.5 mg/m3 and 2.5 mg/m3) and two flow rates (equivalent to 40 and 80 l/min through 15.9 cm2 sections of each RP type). Each material was held in a sample holder and PM2.5 dust concentrations were measured both outside the mask material and inside the sample holder to determine FE. A limited number of tests were undertaken to assess the effect on FE of wetting a bandana and a surgical mask, as well as folding a bandana to provide multiple filter layers. Overall, four RP materials performed very well against volcanic ash, with median FEs in excess of 98% (N95-equiv., N99-equiv., PM2.5 surgical (Japan), and Basic flat-fold (Indonesia)). The two standard surgical masks tested had median FEs of 89–91%. All other materials had median FEs ranging from 23 to 76% with no cloth materials achieving >44%. Folding a bandana resulted in better FE (40%; 3× folded) than single-layered material (29%). Wetting the bandana and surgical mask material did not improve FE overall. This first evidence base on the FE of common materials used to protect communities in volcanic crises from ash inhalation has been extended in a companion study (Steinle et al., 2018) on the total inward leakage of the best-performing masks when worn by human volunteers. This will provide a complete assessment of the effectiveness of these RP types.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)967-976
Number of pages10
JournalInternational Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health
Issue number6
Early online date22 Apr 2018
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2018


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