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Ann Occup Hyg. 1997 Dec;41(6):677-90.

Collection of three bacterial aerosols by respirator and surgical mask filters under varying conditions of flow and relative humidity.

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  • 1University of Minnesota, School of Public Health, Division of Environmental and Occupational Health, Minneapolis 55455, USA.


A variety of respirator filters and surgical masks were challenged with three aerosolized bacteria: Mycobacterium abscessus (M.a.) (a rod), Staphylococcus epidermidis (S.e.) (a sphere), and Bacillus subtilis (B.s.) (a rod). Tests were conducted at two flow rates (45 and 85 l./min) and two humidity levels (30 and 70%). Aerosols were measured with a total-particle, direct-reading, spectrometer and a viable particle cascade impactor. Measurements up- and downstream of the filter or mask were used in determining aerosol penetration; respirator or surgical mask fit was not evaluated. Bioaerosol penetration measured with two aerosol sampling instruments was found to correlate. Additionally, bioaerosol test parameters were evaluated with respect to their effect on penetration. Increasing flow resulted in increased penetration of all organisms while an increase in relative humidity did not exert a consistent effect on all organisms. Of the respirators approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), filter efficiency was as expected with dust/mist respirators having the lowest and HEPA filters the highest efficiency. Surgical masks were the least efficient of all filters tested; these are not certified by NIOSH. Bioaerosol penetration was compared to that of a polystyrene latex sphere (PSL) aerosol. Penetration of the test aerosols was predicted on the basis of particle aerodynamic diameter and was expected to be in this order: PSL > M.a. > S.e. = B.s. The PSL aerosol was the most penetrating, as predicted. However, results showed that B.s. was more penetrating than S.e. The aerodynamic diameter may not be the best parameter for predicting aerosol penetration of non-spherical particles in these filters.

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