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There is a mask that has been designed for chemically injured individuals by an occupational health nurse, Sandra DenBraber (817-469-9626) or (skdbrn@ticnet.com). This provides significantly reduced exposure and can enable you to attend events or travel to places or use means of transportation that would otherwise exacerbate your illness. Be aware that there are now several "look-alike" masks, but unfortunately these masks were not designed by an individual with occupational health/industrial hygiene expertise, and do not provide an effective fit with the face. Correct fit is essential to the mask's effectiveness. Activated charcoal filter devices have long been used to reduce exposure to combustion products and vapors of various petrochemical products. They are less effective against chemicals such as ammonia, bleach, etc., which are not made from petroleum. The DenBraber cloth mask has been developed because individuals who are chemically injured do not tolerate the rubber used for most masks.


SELECTING THE MASK AND FILTER: The mask is made of a cloth material. This can be cotton. For a minimal additional charge, you can obtain a silk mask. This is much more comfortable, easier to breathe through, and has cloth covering over the elastic straps, avoiding the problem of elastic becoming caught in the hair. Since the mask itself only needs to be replaced usually after hundreds of uses, the extra minor investment is usually well worth it. The filter inserts are made of activated charcoal and are well tolerated by the vast majority of chemically sensitive individuals.  An occasional person may notice intolerance to the charcoal. If this does occur, there are various types of charcoal that can be utilized, and almost all persons can find a filter material that is effective and well tolerated. Contact Ms. DenBraber for information on how to test yourself for which filter materials you tolerate best.


LEARNING TO USE THE MASK: Insert the replaceable activated charcoal filter insert into the mask, with the smaller section facing upward and the larger section downward. The insert also is oval shaped and goes into the mask so that the longer portion of the oval is horizontal. It is wise to practice putting the mask on before you will need to use it. By doing this, if you encounter an exposure, after the first breath of the pollutant, you will be able to get the mask onto your face usually rapidly enough to avoid further exposure. The mask has a metal nosepiece that faces upward. Put the mask in front of your face with the opening toward your face. Put the bottom strap over your head first. Then put the top strap over second, so that the top strap crosses over the bottom strap in the back of your head. This helps to hold the mask more securely in place. Now adjust the metal band on the nosepiece so that it snugly but comfortably fits your nose. Practice until you are able to put on the mask from its container in well less than a minute. It is wise to periodically re-practice if you do not use the mask on a frequent basis so that you can put it on correctly and quickly in the event of an unplanned exposure, such as roofing tar, road tarring or asphalt laying, diesel exhaust, etc.


USING THE MASK: Carry the mask with you in a purse or other convenient carrying container. If you wish, you can also have an extra one in the car, also in a proper container. This way you will be able to use it for unanticipated exposures. If you experience irritation of the eyes, nose, etc., consider putting on the mask not only to reduce symptoms, but also to avoid the process of becoming more sensitized. Researchers now feel that neural (brain) sensitization is a major mechanism for reactions. Nerve endings that are actually extensions of the brain go down into the eyes, face, nose, and upper respiratory system. There is no barrier between the nose and these nerve extensions from the brain. Chemicals can enter the brain directly from the nose. Thus, reducing unnecessary exposure can help reduce the process of sensitization, and avoid your body changing so that your reactions become longer and/or more intense.


The mask is one of several control measures to reduce exposure when you are out of the home and should be used as a backup when reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act, an effective car filter, and other controls are not adequate. See Environmental Control Plan this website.


You may experience some shyness about using a mask, and your decision of when and where to use a mask should be your decision alone. It may help to recall that while you can recognize people, the mask covers enough of your face that people will not be able to recognize who you are with the mask on. Some individuals feel more comfortable wearing the mask after they are already in an enclosed situation, such as in a car, train, bus, plane, etc., while others prefer to or need to use it more widely. These are individual decisions that you alone should make.


STORAGE OF THE MASK: It is essential to remember that activated charcoal will pick up pollutants whether or not you are wearing the mask. This means that it is necessary to keep the mask stored in an airtight container at all times when you are not wearing it.  The easiest to use container for many individuals is a small glass jar with a wide mouth. Then the mask can be conveniently stuffed into the jar and quickly removed by unscrewing the lid. DO NOT store in plastic as activated charcoal filter picks up plastic off gassing and loses protection during storage.


CARE OF THE MASK: It is wise to wash the cloth portion (never the charcoal filter) after each use to avoid moisture with mold build up, charcoal staining, etc. Let it soak in water with a small amount of gentle soap you tolerate, soak to rinse, and drip dry.


REPLACING FILTERS: Activated charcoal will absorb pollutants onto its surface until the surface areas are relatively filled, after which time it will no longer pick up pollutants and then is not effective. It must then be changed. If you have used a particular filter for more intense exposures, the filter will last for a few hours, whereas it will last for more hours if your exposures were less severe.


If you have a normal or adequate sense of smell, take notice of what exposures you can smell when the filter is completely new and has just been removed from the cellophane container. For example, in situations of light to medium traffic, you should not be able to smell any significant vehicle exhaust except for possibly relatively faint or light detection of diesel when near buses or trucks. Initially take notice of which odors you can and cannot detect when the filter is new. As soon as you begin to notice that you can smell chemical odors that you could not smell when the filter was new, it is time to replace the filter. For relatively intense exposures, a rule of thumb is approximately up to 4 to 6 hours, with average exposure 6 to 8 hours, and with lighter exposures approximately 10 hours. Always have at least one extra new filter insert so that you will always have protection.


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