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Off Topic: Keep Your Lungs Healthy: Particulate Face Mask

You might not realize how much dirt is thrown up by traffic or wind, and it all goes right into the lung. The evidence in double centuries is dirt-brown-faced riders (sunblock picks up dirt and dust) at the end of a double century. And for me, it also means bronchospasms.

So I no longer ride in conditions involving heavy traffic, dust storms, or high pollen conditions without using an N100 face mask. Today I mowed my lawn (very large, dry, dusty) and wore a face mask—no bronchospasms and the mask was brown when done.

You don’t want crap in your lungs—ever—really fine stuff (10 microns and smaller) goes in and never comes out. Surely lung cancer risk increases over a long period of time, if not asthma and bronchospasms immediately.

I used a crummy face mask for about 50 miles while riding the 2017 Southern Inyo Double Century—with a big brown cloud of dust and toxins from Owens Lake in the air—and no bronchospasms. I rode the 2018 Joshua Tree Double Century for 50 miles or so with an N100 face mask (particularly along the interstate) and no bronchospasms.

The face mask I use and find comfortable even under heavy exertion is the 3M Particular Respirator 8233, N100. I suggest buying a 4-pack of 3M Particular Respirator 8233, N100. It is relatively durable too, so it can be used many times. It seals up really well, far better than N95 or other inferior face masks.

3M Particular Respirator 8233, N100

Specifications for 3M™ Particulate Respirator 8233, N100.

  • NIOSH's highest rated filtration efficiency in a disposable respirator N100
  • M™ Cool Flow™ Exhalation Valve reduces heat build-up inside the respirator
  • Compatible with a variety of protective eyewear and hearing protection
  • Adjustable noseclip helps provide a custom secure seal

3M™ Particulate Respirator 8233, N100 is a disposable particulate respirator that is designed to help provide reliable respiratory protection of at least 99.97 percent filtration efficiency against certain non-oil based particles. Soft inner material provides added comfort while the cup shape design makes the respirator spacious and durable. Adjustable noseclip helps provide a custom secure seal. Fully adjustable head straps help provide a secure seal. The respirator incorporates 3M’s proprietary technology with advanced electrostatically charged microfiber filter media designed for ease of breathing. This respirator is compatible with a variety of protective eyewear and hearing protection. Recommended applications include foundry operations, grinding, petrochemical manufacturing, processing of minerals, and welding. Industries in which this respirator is commonly used includes construction, general manufacturing, mining, oil and gas, and transportation. Fitted with a 3M Cool Flow™ Exhalation Valve, this respirator is ideally suited for work situations involving heat, humidity, or long periods of wear. The proprietary 3M Cool Flow valve is designed to release hot, humid exhaled breath quickly, helping to prevent an unpleasant build up of heat inside the facepiece - a significant cause of discomfort to respirator wearers. This particulate respirator is NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) approved for environments containing certain non-oil based particles and provides N100 (99.97%) filter efficiency. Respirator helps provide protection against certain OSHA substance specific contaminants including lead, MDA, arsenic, and cadmium (excluding asbestos). Breathing hazardous particles can pose a risk to your health. NIOSH, a Federal government regulatory agency, has tested and approved the 3M Particulate Respirator 8233, which is designed to help reduce exposure to certain airborne particles.

David M writes:

Thanks for your post about the N100 face mask. A few weeks ago I was photographing on the island of Hawaii and was overwhelmed by the vog (volcanic emissions) from Kīlauea volcano. I've been coughing constantly for the last 3 weeks. My doctor gave me an inhaler, but once you get junk in your lungs, it's there to stay.

I'm going back in 2 weeks and I'll definitely be bringing one of these face masks.

DIGLLOYD: not only can the 'junk' stay, micro scarring can occur, and that can lead to a permanent reduction of lung function (small airways), and a predisposition to viral infections.

I question the wisdom of going back given the damage already done (it can take years for the lungs to recover from some insults, personal experience), but the mask should keep particulate matter out, provided it is properly fitted. Also, the N100 face mask does nothing to keep out chemical vapors like hydrogen sulfide. Were I going back, I’d get something 'serious' with activated carbon.
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