Can’t find an N95 mask? Here are some alternatives that can also protect you from Taal’s ashfall

January 13, 2020 - 5:57 PM
Residents living near the errupting Taal Volcano evacuate in Lemery, Batangas City
Residents living near the errupting Taal Volcano evacuate in Lemery, Batangas City, Philippines, January 13, 2020. (Reuters/Eloisa Lopez)

Alternatives for N95 respiratory masks, which are currently in low supply, were being discussed on local social media.

The N95 mask is a safety device that protects the nose and mouth from hazardous substances such as the ashfall spewed by the erupting Taal Volcano.

According to the Department of Health, Filipinos can use medical or surgical masks, dust masks or wet handkerchiefs as substitute for the N95 respirators.

MAHALAGANG PAALALA: Alamin kung paano mapapangalagaan ang sarili mula sa masasamang epekto dulot ng ash fall o pag-ulan ng abo.Manatiling ligtas at alerto. Isang paalala mula sa inyong Department of Health.

Posted by Department of Health (Philippines) on Sunday, January 12, 2020

N95 substitutes against ash fall

DOH Undersecretary Eric Domingo advised the use of surgical masks in affected areas in Metro Manila if the other face piece is not readily available.

One Twitter user shared a video clip on how to modify surgical masks for effective filtration. Just place folded tissue papers between the mask and the face for effective filtration.

They cited a research in Thailand saying that surgical masks with added tissue papers can filter dust particles by up to 90%, near the 87 to 96% the filtration capability of N95 masks.

Meanwhile, an instructor in Ateneo de Manila University also shared a screenshot of a study that showed the basic flat-fold of unused fabric being more efficient in filtration than surgical masks.

The study came from a journal called International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health.

N95-equiv, PM2.5 surgical mask, and Basic flat-fold have filtration efficiency of at least 98%Folding a bandana 3x…

Posted by Emmanuel Delocado on Sunday, January 12, 2020

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a surgical mask is only intended as a barrier against “large droplets, sprays and splashes of bodily fluids.”

The agency emphasized that this device shouldn’t be used as a direct substitute to the N95 respirator.

“Surgical masks are not designed for use as particulate respirators and do not provide as much respiratory protection as an N95 respirator,” the article from CDC said.

“Surgical masks provide barrier protection against droplets including large respiratory particles. Most surgical masks do not effectively filter small particles from the air and do not prevent leakage around the edge of the mask when the user inhales,” it added.

Why is the N95 mask running out?

Photos and testimonies of bulk-buying and retailers racking up costs of the device swirled on social media as tension built up on the Taal eruption.

Screenshot by Interaksyon

One Twitter user shared a screenshot of a popular drugstore’s retail price for each N95 mask.

Manila Vice Mayor Honey Lacuna-Pangan said that she received these complaints and warned businesses on taking advantage of the high demand.

“Huwag naman po natin gamitin ang panahon na ito para manamantala. Tandaan po natin, delikado po sa kalusugan nila ito,” Lacuna-Pangan said.

From P25 to P30, she received reports that prices in some stores went up as high as P200 per piece.

The Department of Trade and Industry also issued an advisory against big retailers that what they’re doing can be considered profiteering.

“The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) hereby issues notice to all retailers that we have dispatched teams to monitor and observe movement of retail prices in the market,” DTI said.

“Those found to have unreasonably increased their prices for gas masks, face masks and other similar items, which act is tantamount to profiteering, shall be dealt with to the fullest extent of the law,” it added.

Meanwhile, others noted that such protective gear should be provided by the government, particularly to Filipinos near the volcano who needed it the most.