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Textile conservator, Gwen Spicer of Spicer Art Conservation at work

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Beware “Fake” Dust Masks and Respirators

As part of a FEMA team deployed to Puerto Rico, Gwen is volunteering her conservation expertise this spring to cultural institutions that continue their recovery from last fall’s devastating hurricanes. She and her colleagues use dust masks and N95 particulate respirators on a daily basis to protect themselves from a range of non-oil based airborne particulates, including mold.

In the warm and humid environment of Puerto Rico, mold grows quickly. In addition to the damage it causes to objects, textiles, and paper-based materials, it has the potential to cause health problems. Allergic reactions are common and can be immediate or delayed. Respiratory protection is essential and the safest, most reliable gear is approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the United States federal agency responsible for conducting research and making recommendations for the prevention of work-related injury and illness.

The N95 respirator is the most common of the seven types of particulate filtering facepiece respirators and filters at least 95% of airborne particles but is not resistant to oil.

To their surprise, the team found that some of the dust masks in use are not approved by NIOSH. Rather, they are marketed as NISH-approved, which is not a legitimate designation.

Gwen urges you to check your dust masks and respirators to ensure they are N95 NIOSH approved and discard those that are not.


NIOSH is part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. You can learn more about NIOSH at https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/about/default.html

Respiratory Protection for Residents Reentering and/or Cleaning Homes that Were Flooded  https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/disease/respiratory.html 

Training videos for respirators  (available in Spanish and English) https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/respiratoryprotection/training_videos.html 

Una Breve Guía para el Moho en el lugar de trabajo (available in Spanish and English) https://www.osha.gov/dts/shib/shib101003.html 


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