By now “N95” is common parlance to Fort McMurray evacuees, but what exactly does it mean?
N95 is the trade name of the respirator masks that every resident returning to the community must wear until air quality improves in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB).
The masks are usually worn by healthcare workers to prevent the spread of highly infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) which are passed on through inhalation of airborne contaminants.
Certified by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in the United States, N95 respirators are fully approved for use in Canada.
There are three different types of filters on surgical grade masks: N, R and P. The letter in a mask’s name represents the type of resistance it provides to the degrading of filter efficiency when exposed to different kinds of airborne particulates such as dust, fume and mist.
As per a NIOSH guide, N-type masks are “Not resistant to oil,” R-type masks are “Resistant to oil,” and P-type masks are “Oil-Proof.”
The number in a mask’s name represents the filter efficiency level. There are three different levels: 95% (N95), 99% (N99) and 99.97% (N100 or HEPA filter).
According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) website, Canadian Biosafety Standards and Guidelines require N95 users to adhere to the following procedures when wearing the respirators:
- Complete respirator training and be fit-tested to ensure proper protection prior to undertaking any activities in potentially hazardous environments
- Perform a seal check with each use of the mask
- Decontaminate the respirator and/or cartridge after every use
- Never reuse a disposable mask
- Remove the mask when it is deemed safe to do so and only once inside the containment zone
While essential services personnel entering Fort McMurray ahead of the phased re-entry period are being fit-tested for N95 respirators locally, RMWB officials have said that those same services will not be provided on or after June 1.
The demand that will be created by the number of people returning to the city in quick succession would outrun resource availability, particularly trained healthcare providers and the time requirement to properly fit each individual.
Each household will be provided with one N95 respirator when they arrive in Fort McMurray, but each party is responsible for obtaining any additional masks that they require.
N95 respirators are available in Calgary and Edmonton through local First Aid organizations.
Calgary First Aid charges $38.99 for a mask fitting and will provide the necessary training required to operate the masks safely.
Edmonton First Aid charges $23.99 for the same services and more information regarding locations, dates and times for fittings can be found on both cities’ websites.