Update: I no longer consider either mask as first choice for me in China: please read this and this instead. I especially no longer feel that Respro is an appropriate choice for anyone in China; as FFP1 rating it technically filters out only 80% of PM2.5, maybe 88% as in their own data and my own testing. This is less effective than any disposable 3M N95 or N99 mask, which also are a fraction of the price of Respro.
The air is starting to get a hazy shade of winter, and recently I wrote about air pollution masks and where to buy. But people always ask which ones to buy, if any. Last year I wrote about the Totobobo masks, which had a pretty good research study showing a real-world usage efficiency of over 99% for particles as small as PM0.3 (in the most ideal mask-fitting conditions). But what about Respro? I’m sure you’ve seen the occasional biker passing by while wearing a Darth-Vaderish mask — that’s Respro. Just how good is Respro’s actual efficiency? I finally tracked down their customer service team via emails and got the straight dope, which may interest many of you. The bottom line is that their filters are 99% effective down to PM0.3 in lab tests, and 88% effective in real-world on-the-face tests (Sportsta and Techno). So which one would you choose?
First I’d like to share my email exchange, almost verbatim, with Respro. It’s a bit technical but the science data is important:
Hi Dr Richard,
We have a European Standard that being EN149 FFP1. The tests carried out are done with particles 0.5 micron in aerodynamic diameter. We do not have Niosh testing (American), EN149 FFP1 is equivalent to N95 – FFP3 is equivalent to N99
Our products are primarily used in non-industrial sectors; motorcycle, cycle markets, some like the FB-1 mask are used by fire police and rescue services in the UK. We feel that it is important for our products to conform to industrial standards as a measure of effectiveness when marketing to the general public. Our products conform to technical specifications of European Standards for PPE (personal Protective Equipment) and our Sportsta and FB-1 masks which both carry P1 certification for lsolid and liquid aerosols ie dusts and mists, were CE Certified for use in industrial environments
EN149 is a homologated European standard applicable for the use of facemasks in the workplace for the filtration of dusts and water soluble aqueous mists. The test protocol used is primarily based on the masks ability to filter a given percentage of particulate material by means of seal and filter media.
The size of particle used in the tests are 0.5 microns in aerodynamic diameter. This particular part of the test is called the inward leakage test. Our Sportsta and Techno masks are rated at and average of 88% and conform to FFP1S levels. (my emphasis) This not to say that the cannot perform more or less efficiently.
Clearly fit is a major issue and the reason why we have two sizes and for the Respro Allergy mask we have four sizes…
URBAN POLLUTION AND FILTER TYPES
Traffic pollution is a cocktail of different gases vapours and particulates. There is no valid test for vehicle pollution and its uptakes, however some studies have suggested that wearing a mask reduces the incidence of cardio vascular disorders.
We use industrial standards for comparison:
Our filters are lab tested for uptakes against various chemicals which are listed below.
Our particle filter material is tested to 0.3 microns in size. The results confirm that 99% of all particles passing through the media is trapped. The typically range of particles found in industry which is where the material is normally used is 0.5 microns in aerodynamic diameter. Typical ranges of particulate pollution are from 0.5 to 10+ microns.
We offer several types of filter all of which are interchangeable within the range of masks providing they are the same size.
1. Sports filter – for sub-micron particle filtration (Respirable dusts
2. City filter – for micron particle filtration (inhaleable dusts PM10) and Organic vapour uptake. (City Mask/ Nightsite mask standard issue)
3. Techno filter – for sub-micron particle filtration (Respirable dusts
4. Allergy Particle – for sub-micron particle filtration (Respirable dusts
5. Allergy Particle/Chemical filter – for sub-micron particle filtration (Respirable dusts
PM10: = ABOVE 10 MICRONS IN AERODYNAMIC DIAMETER SIZE
PM1: = ABOVE 1 MICRONS IN AERODYNAMIC DIAMETER SIZE AND BELOW 10 MICRONS
SUB MICRON: = LESS THAN 1 MICRON IN SIZE
Inhalable and Respirable.
Inhalable particulates: are the particles big enough to be trapped within the nasal hairs and the mucous membranes at the back of the throat.
Respirable particulates: are the particles that pass beyond the nasal hairs and the mucous membranes of the throat and pass into the lung sacs and subsequent blood barrier. These particulates can carry carcinogenic chemicals used in petrol (benzene, pyrene, etc) to the blood barrier…
I hope this is of assistance and please feel free to ask any further advice.
Mairead McClean – Team Respro® Customer services
Dear Mairead,Thanks for the reply, which is very informative! I have a question: you say that “results confirm that 99% of all particles passing through the media is trapped.”, yet you also say that “Sportsta and Techno masks are rated at an average of 88% and conform to FFP1S levels”. Are you saying that technically the filters are 99% efficient down to PM0.5, but in real world testing, the effectiveness is 88%? The difference is mostly due to fitting issues?Thanks,Richard—————————————————————————————————————-Hi Dr Richard.You are absolutely correct in your conclusion,. The difference is due to ‘inward leakage’ Face masks are not hermetically sealed to the face so they have something called ‘inward leakage’. That is, a certain amount of unfiltered air will pass around the sealing point on the face. Some air will pass through the seal and as the nose is a very sensitive organ it will pick up minute levels ( PPB Parts per billion). Ensuring the mask is correctly fitted will ensure the minimum of inward leakage. This is why we have 4 sizes.
Kind regardsMairead McClean – Team Respro® Customer services
Respro Vs Totobobo: Who’s The Winner?
So I think 88% real-world is pretty darn good. But if you reread my Totobobo piece, a randomized controlled cross-over study showed a “median (interquartile range) 135-fold reduction in airborne particle counts” with Totobobo masks in a real-world setting in 22 healthy subjects. So real-world testing clearly shows Totobobo is more effective than Respro. I also much prefer Totobobo due to better pricing and also because it’s much less extreme-looking than the Respro series. But you can all make your own decisions; and Respro actually is more effective than I had thought. In any case, it’s nice to finally get this data!
Update 2015: I will say again that I no longer feel that Respro is an appropriate choice for anyone in China; as FFP1 it technically filters out only 80% of PM2.5, maybe 88% as in their own data. This is far less effective than any disposable 3M N95 or N99 mask, which also are a fraction of the price of Respro.