Certified respirators and surgical face masks may be difficult to procure during the COVID-19 pandemic due to high demand and supply chain interruptions. This may result in purchasing alternative masks and filtration materials that do not meet quality and safety standards. Testing certified or decontaminated masks also helps ensure that the specific mask brand name and lot number meet requirements and are not defective before they are deployed to healthcare workers.
Southwest Research Institute is addressing these challenges by evaluating alternative materials and masks using equivalent testing standards that would apply for the N95 respirator mask, KN95 respirator mask and surgical face masks. These services are available to healthcare, commercial and government clients who need to quickly evaluate particle filtration and flow resistance.
N95 Respirator Mask Testing, Surgical Masks & Alternatives
Various organizations and agencies regulate respirator masks, surgical face masks, and personal protective equipment (PPE), including N95 respirator mask testing. SwRI’s testing services are informed by FDA guidance and particle science procedures, including:
- Alternatives When FDA-Cleared or NIOSH-Approved N95 Respirators are Not Available
- Guidance on Face Masks During the Public Health Emergency
- Standard Respirator Testing Procedures (NIOSH and 42 CFR Part 84)
- N95 Respirators, Surgical Masks and Face Masks
- ASTM Standards for Medical Face Masks and Protective Clothing (surgical face masks)
Why use SwRI for mask material and particle testing?
SwRI’s Particle Science & Technology Laboratory is ISO/IEC 17025-accredited by the American Association of Laboratory Accreditation (A2LA) for calibrating devices that measure particles as small as 10 nanometers. Clients use SwRI to verify whether alternative facemasks and materials, decontaminated masks and certified masks filter out particles in accordance with NIOSH, ASTM and FDA standards. Our laboratory found that many masks using alternative materials did not meet filtration and flow standards required for healthcare professionals. We also found counterfeit masks made their way into the supply chain.
What does SwRI test for in its laboratory?
Our testing is currently used for evaluating particle filtration and flow resistance in the following:
- Alternative materials (polypropylene, Teflon, etc.)
- N95 respirator mask testing
- KN95 respirator mask testing
- Surgical face masks
We are not currently testing for NIOSH or FDA pre-certification, but our services provide similar data for screening purposes, including:
- Particle Filtration Efficiency (PFE)
- Neutralized Sodium Chloride Aerosol (NaCl) Challenge
- Neutralized Dioctyl Phthalate (DOP) test
- Neutralized and Un-neutralized Polystyrene Latex Spheres (PSL) Challenge
Particle Filtration R&D
More than a testing company, SwRI is focused on advanced science and applied technology that benefits humankind. We are sharing our particle testing data with the leading standards making bodies and the scientific community, while also conducting related particle science that will help mask and filtration developers to evaluate more effective materials and applications.
To learn more, listen to a podcast featuring SwRI’s Imad Khalek discussing mask materials testing.