Exposure to high concentrations of airborne ultrafine particles in construction jobsites may play an important role in the adverse health effects among construction workers, therefore adequate respiratory protection is required. The performance of particulate respirators has never been evaluated in field conditions against ultrafine particles on construction jobsites. In this study, respiratory protection levels against ultrafine particles of different size ranges were assessed during three common construction related jobs using a manikin-based set-up at 85 L/min air flow rate. Two NanoScan SMPS nanoparticle counters were utilized for measuring ultrafine particles in two sampling lines of the test filtering facepiece respirator-one from inside the respirator and one from outside the respirator. Particle size distributions were characterized using the NanoScan data collected from outside of the respirator. Two models of N95 respirators were tested-foldable and pleated. Collected data indicate that penetration of all categories of ultrafine particles can exceed 5% and smaller ultrafine particles of <36.5 nm size generally penetrated least. Foldable N95 filtering facepiece respirators were found to be less efficient than pleated N95 respirators in filtering nanoparticles mostly at the soil moving site and the wooden building frameworks construction site. Upon charge neutralization by isopropanol treatment, the ultrafine particles of larger sizes penetrated more compared to particles of smaller sizes. Our findings, therefore, indicate that N95 filtering facepiece respirators may not provide desirable 95% protection for most categories of ultrafine particles and generally, 95% protection is achievable for smaller particles of 11.5 to 20.5 nm sizes. We also conclude that foldable N95 respirators are less efficient than pleated N95 respirators in filtering ultrafine particles, mostly in the soil moving site and the wooden building framework construction site.
Keywords: N95 filtering facepiece respirators; aerosol; construction workers; industrial hygiene; masks; nanoparticle; occupational safety; ultrafine particles.