Total inward leakage of nanoparticles through filtering facepiece respirators

Ann Occup Hyg. 2011 Apr;55(3):253-63. doi: 10.1093/annhyg/meq096. Epub 2011 Feb 3.


Nanoparticle (<100 nm size) exposure in workplaces is a major concern because of the potential impact on human health. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)-approved particulate respirators are recommended for protection against nanoparticles based on their filtration efficiency at sealed conditions. Concerns have been raised on the lack of information for face seal leakage of nanoparticles, compromising respiratory protection in workplaces. To address this issue, filter penetration and total inward leakage (TIL) through artificial leaks were measured for NIOSH-approved N95 and P100 and European certified Conformit'e Europe'en-marked FFP2 and FFP3 filtering facepiece respirator models sealed to a breathing manikin kept inside a closed chamber. Monodisperse sucrose aerosols (8-80 nm size) generated by electrospray or polydisperse NaCl aerosols (20-1000 nm size) produced by atomization were passed into the chamber. Filter penetration and TIL were measured at 20, 30, and 40 l min(-1) breathing flow rates. The most penetrating particle size (MPPS) was ∼50 nm and filter penetrations for 50 and 100 nm size particles were markedly higher than the penetrations for 8 and 400 nm size particles. Filter penetrations increased with increasing flow rates. With artificially introduced leaks, the TIL values for all size particles increased with increasing leak sizes. With relatively smaller size leaks, the TIL measured for 50 nm size particles was ∼2-fold higher than the values for 8 and 400 nm size particles indicating that the TIL for the most penetrating particles was higher than for smaller and larger size particles. The data indicate that higher concentration of nanoparticles could occur inside the breathing zone of respirators in workplaces where nanoparticles in the MPPS range are present, when leakage is minimal compared to filter penetration. The TIL/penetration ratios obtained for 400 nm size particles were larger than the ratios obtained for 50 nm size particles at the three different flow rates and leak sizes indicating that face seal leakage, not filter penetration, contributing to the TIL for larger size particles. Further studies on face seal leakage of nanoparticles for respirator users in workplaces are needed to better understand the respiratory protection against nanoparticle exposure.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants, Occupational / analysis
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Equipment Design
  • Filtration / instrumentation
  • Filtration / standards
  • Humans
  • Masks / standards*
  • Nanoparticles*
  • Occupational Health*
  • Respiratory Protective Devices / standards*
  • Sodium Chloride


  • Air Pollutants, Occupational
  • Sodium Chloride