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What to Consider when Selecting Respirators for Mold Cleanup

A lot of injuries and illnesses occur during response and recovery from hurricanes and floods. Common hazards include carbon monoxide poisoning from generators and clean-up equipment, electrocution, falls, lacerations and exposure to mold.

Yes, mold is a big issue. Floodwaters caused by hurricanes create moisture, a perfect environment for mold spores to grow and multiply. And prolonged mold contamination is a source of respiratory problems, such as allergic reactions, asthma, eye, throat or lung irritation.

Here’s how to protect workers involved in mold cleanup.

Signs of mold

Mold are fungi that thrive in humid environments and spread as air particulates. Most molds are harmless, but some can cause infections, especially to people with allergies. Mold can be visible on surfaces such as carpets, ceilings, wood, but also behind wallpapers, under window sills or in ventilation and HVAC systems. To detect hidden mold, air monitoring is usually required.

When it comes to health symptoms, exposure to mold leads to:

  • Itchy, runny, or stuffy nose
  •  Sneezing
  •  Eye irritation
  • Cough or throat irritation
  • Severe allergic responses (rhinitis, asthma, and pneumonitis due to hypersensitivity)
  • Infections
  •  Skin irritation

Mold remediation protection

Worker protection starts with engineering controls, work practices PPE to protect against inhalation or fungal infections.

Engineering controls include re-wetting materials to reduce spores and dust from being released in the air, ensuring natural ventilation during cleanup and using wet vacuums to remove water.

In terms of best practices, it’s advisable to avoid breathing dust, and to clean work areas with damp cloths and detergent, and dry them.

When it comes to respiratory PPE selection, there are no published exposure limits (PELs) for mold. Selecting a respirator depends on the contaminated area - the size of the remediation job, the biocides used and the presence of other contaminants.

Honeywell recommends a N95 respirator as the most basic protection. The N95 respirator is the most common of the seven types of particulate filtering facepiece respirators. It filters at least 95% of airborne particles. R95 or P95 filters are also suitable.

Areas around 100 square feet, with heavy mold and substantial release of dust, require a half-face air purifying respirator equipped with N100, R100 or P100 filters for better protection.  

N, R, and P are NIOSH certification categories that apply to negative pressure air-purifying respirators.

  • N means there is no oil in the air.
  • R - Oil is present, but only for a single shift or 8 hours of continuous or intermittent use. 
  • P - Oil is present, but it’s best to follow manufacturer time use limitations if you want to re-use.

They come along with efficiency ratings such as 95, 99, or 100.

  •   95 - the filter will trap 95 particles out of every 100.
  •  99 - the filter is expected to trap 99 particles out of every 100.
  • 100 - the filter is expected to trap 99.97 particles out of every 100. It is as efficient as a High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter.

In this case, Honeywell recommends a multi-contaminant respirator such as the Defender full facepiece with P100 filters. Here is a list of all our APRs.


Why P100 instead of N95?

For larger remediation jobs, consider a PAPR with OV/AG/HEPA if the mold might be emitting gases or vapors and you are using a biocide to kill mold. OV protects from organic vapors, while AG stands for acid gas protection from hydrogen sulfide, which occurs naturally in sewers.

P100 is also suitable for demolition work which may involve the presence of mold, as well as lead, asbestos, silica and other hazardous materials.

For unknown hazards – including a confined space or atmosphere that could be immediately dangerous to life (IDLH) – you many need a PD-SAR or SCBA.

Read more about the advantages of SCBA over APRs , here.

Of course, mold exposure is not only about respiratory health, so take hand protection and eye protection into account, too. Long-liquid proof gloves, disposable clothing and goggles ensure head-to-toe protection from all safety risks.

For more guidance on respirators and other PPE for post-hurricane cleanup, visit this page or contact a local Honeywell distributor.