In The Face Of Danger

August 17, 2005

new nonwoven face mask extends disaster escape time

Nonwovens have found another way to save lives. With existing applications including protective apparel, fire blankets and safety walls, nonwovens have been protecting humans for decades, and now a new consumer product has expanded this life-saving role.

Recently introduced from FMJ ChemBio, San Diego, CA, is a respiratory filter system that uses nonwovens to protect wearers from inhaling harmful smoke or biological and chemical gases. The mask lasts for 15 minutes, giving wearers valuable escape time from emergency situations. Launched at the end of June, the Quick Escape Mask (QEM) features six layers of protection, four of which are made of nonwoven material. According to FMJ ChemBio executives, the QEM is the first mask that simultaneously filters both chemical and biological substances.

A manufacturer of nuclear, biological and chemical filtration systems, FMJ ChemBio uses an enhanced form of an Activated Carbon Cloth (ACC) in its patent pending filtration system. The material is similar to what was used by the Allied Forces during the Gulf War to protect its soldiers against chemical and biological warfare agents, according to Fred Jameson, CEO and founder of FMJ ChemBio.

The QEM features an outer and inner protective layer, which are both comprised of a polyester/cotton blend woven cloth. These two layers surround four layers of needlepunched nonwovens, each of which perform a different function including: particulate and aerosol filtration, biological and chemical filtration, a harmful smoke and gas absorption and finally, microfiltration and absorption. The microfiltration and absorption layers feature the ACC.

Using a needlepunched nonwoven in the QEM’s filtration media in the QEM provides the material with a large surface area. “The activated carbon cloth has a very large surface area that is significantly greater than standard activated carbon granules,” explained Mr. Jameson. “A special version of our cloth has a surface area so great that it can actually consist of pores so small they cannot be adequately measured by standard testing equipment. Because of this ‘nanostructure,’ this cloth may be specifically suitable for capturing and neutralizing tiny biological contaminants, but it must be specially treated to do this.”

Aside from the advantages of a large surface area, the mask is compact, making it easy to carry in a pocket, purse, glove compartment or briefcase.

The QEM is geared toward anyone who may be faced with the possibility of a catastrophe. “In this day and age, the unfortunate reality is that we are individually responsible for being prepared for the unthinkable,” said Mr. Jameson. “As a former firefighter, I understand the importance of respiratory protection from toxic smoke. The QEM is designed to protect individuals in any emergency situation where respiratory safety is compromised—be it a fire, terrorist attack or other chemical or biological disaster.”

Combating Laboratory Testing
Although testing is currently not required for civilian use masks, FMJ ChemBio has subjected its filtration system to rigorous testing in numerous accredited laboratories. These tests use compounds and agents that represent the highest level of dangerous substances available for non-military product testing, company executives explained. The company is also currently preparing to submit the QEM for testing with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), Washington D.C.

All of the company’s testing has been paying off so far. The QEM was able to stand up to testing conducted by New Horizons Diagnostics, a biotechnology lab in Columbia, MD that specializes in manufacturing tests for the rapid detection of bacteria and toxins in humans, environmental, surface, food and water samples for use by municipal and corporate customers.

“The results of the tests performed on the Activated Carbon Cloth used in the QEM showed a significant reduction in the number of Bacillus Spores recovered from filtered material,” explained Larry Loomis, president of New Horizons Diagnostics. “The spores used in the experiment were a commercially produced, non-pathogenic strain of Bacillus.”

Due to harmful substances that can become entrapped in the mask, it is recommended that after use the mask be disposed of in a containment area designated for hazardous materials. Additionally, any clothing articles that have come in contact with hazardous materials should also be removed to ensure safety.

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