When working at a nuclear facility, I frequently had to wear an air particulate respirator. I’m not talking about the N-95 mask that people wear to protect against Covid-19. This was the full-face rubber mask with a filter as big as your fist. We called it ‘sucking rubber’, and it was as unpleasant as it sounds.
I remember wearing one while sitting most of one night shift in winter, outside on top of a nuclear reactor while the engineers tried to determine if they had a big problem or a little one. (It was little, but we didn’t know it at the time.)
Moisture would condense on the inside of the mask and I would slap the mask so as to make water streaks across the inside of the mast so that I could see out.
I also remember when I took the mask off, one of my co-workers burst out laughing. “Do you know what you look like?” “Yes,” I said. “I know.” The mast had left major grooves in my face. Also, the front of my coat looked like a quart of water had been poured done the front—this from my breath’s condensate.
I trained on use of a fireman’s air tank. They had us go up three flights of stairs and back down. I felt like I was breathing through a hose that was one size too small. I have heard that fire fighters in training would play volleyball while wearing air packs. Fortunately, I didn’t have to do that. I’m terrible at volleyball.
If you are wearing a respirator and feel like you are fighting to breathe, you are normal. The primary purpose of the training was to get us accustomed to that feeling.
You need to tell yourself to take deep breaths and to remain calm.
Once, I was wearing an N-95 mask around aluminum powder. When I removed the mask, I could see the grey streaks of aluminum powder around my nose. This happened because of a poorly fitting mask. This is what the experts mean when they say that the N-95 mask is not effective. The mask must be tight against your face. I will wear an N-95 mask while shopping or while working-out in the gym, though, I admit that I occasionally take it off so I can get a few unrestricted breaths.
If you are uncomfortable with the N-95 mask, then practice. Wear it even when you don’t need.
A few facts about respirators:
- The N-95 reduces harmful particulates. It doesn’t reduce the risk to zero. The “95” means 95% effective for 1 micron particles, when worn correctly.
- The mask comes with a metal nose piece which you are expected to shape to fit your face.
- The Covid-19 virus is small and can go through the filter—HOWEVER, when it bounces off the fibers, it is damaged, thus greatly reducing the risk.
- Particulate masks with exhaust valves can protect you from others but does nothing to protect them from you.
- The mask does nothing if you wear it under your nose, which was the situation of about half the people I encountered in the grocery store.
- Surgical masks are designed to protect the patient from anything you have.
- These home-made cotton masks are even less effective.
- Wearing anything is better than wearing nothing.
Finally, an N-95 mask is more comfortable than sucking rubber.