You want to protect yourself and your family from coronavirus. Should you buy an Australian-made P2 face mask … or one of the overseas-made N95, KN95 or FFP2 masks? Should you wear a respirator mask, surgical mask or a fabric mask? What price should you expect to pay? These are all valid questions. (Quick guide here)
In terms of what type of mask to buy, a close-fitting respirator mask will generally offer better protection than a looser surgical mask. And a factory-made mask that is manufactured to high standards will generally offer better protection than a homemade fabric mask.
‘P2’ is the term the Australian and New Zealand authorities use for masks that comply with a strict local standard known as AS/NZS 1716:2012.
P2 respirator masks are required to filter out at least 94% of airborne particulates, according to Australia's Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).
The other types of face masks are based on overseas standards:
The TGA says:
“For the purposes of reducing exposure to COVID-19 both P2 and N95 respirators can be used interchangeably.” SafeWork NSW says KN95 and FFP2 masks are "considered equivalent to the Australian P2 and acceptable in Australian workplaces".
The Australian-made masks that offer 99.6% filtration
But just because P2, N95, KN95 and FFP2 are equivalent standards, doesn’t mean all approved face masks are created equal.
AMD who are manufacturing the first Australian-made P2 face masks at its Sydney factory, is producing masks that filter out 99.6% of particles, according to testing done on 17 July 2020 by VICLAB (BSI).
This is higher than the 94% minimum – and significantly higher than the 30% filtration offered by some low-quality imported masks.
AMD masks, which are sold at Aussie Pharma Direct, use cutting-edge nanotechnology. That means the masks don’t lose performance if they become moist – unlike traditional melt-blown filters, which rely on static electricity to trap airborne particles.
Nano-filters V Meltblown-filters
AMD P2/FFP2 Nano-Tech Particulate Respirator nanofilter is 0.1µm larger than air particles and smaller than harmful particles, and is filtered by the nanofiber structure itself, allowing for long wear and breathability, blocking and durability
Bushfire smoke: *All particles with an aerodynamic diameter of less than 10 μm can enter the human respiratory tract, but those particles that are smaller than 2.5 μm are of particular concern as they are small enough to penetrate deep into the lungs then enter the blood stream and be transported to other tissues.
Most particulate matter emitted by combustion of vegetation consists of elemental and organic carbon and can be categorised according to their aerodynamic diameter: coarse particles are between 2.5–10 μm (PM10), fine particles are 0.1–2.5 μm (PM2.5) and ultrafine particles are less than 0.1 μm.
Some imported masks have "fake or fraudulent paperwork"
You also need to remember that theory is one thing – but practice another.
In theory, imported masks that are labelled as N95, KN95 or FFP2 should meet similar quality controls to P2 face masks that are made in Australia according to strict local rules.
But that is not always happening in practice.
The TGA has warned it is aware of some “recently identified issues” with respirators that “claim compliance as KN95 respirators against the Chinese national standard”.
“There are concerns they may not provide consistent and adequate respiratory protection based on testing conducted by National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) – National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory (NPPTL) of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).”
The UK Health and Safety Executive has also sounded the alarm about Chinese imports: "A substantial number of face masks, claiming to be of KN95 standards, provide an inadequate level of protection and are likely to be poor quality products accompanied by fake or fraudulent paperwork."
Meanwhile, SafeWork NSW has published photographic evidence of “non-compliant respirators” – with the culprits including both Chinese KN95 and European FFP2 masks imported without the proper documentation.
You can confidently invest in Australian-made masks
So, in theory, overseas-made masks that are labelled as P2, N95, KN95 or FFP2 should offer good levels of protection.
But as the authorities have discovered, not all overseas-made masks are what they claim.
If you want a mask that offers great protection for airborne virus' the logical choice is to invest in an Australian-made P2 face mask that filters out a high percentage of airborne particles.
Click here for the our Face Mask Quick Guide - August 2020
Warning: Selection of the most appropriate Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) will depend on the particular situation and should be made only by a competent person knowledgeable of the actual working conditions and the limitations of the RPE. Details regarding performance and limitations are specified on the respirator packaging and user instructions. Before using any respirator, the wearer must read and understand the user instructions for the product. Use in accordance with AS/NZS 1716:2012 Standard. Misuse can result in sickness or death. For more information, consult a supervisor or contact an Occupational Hygienist and Safety professional.