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Reports Indicate N95 Material Still Short

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

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The raw material needed to make N95 masks is still in short supply, according to the Associated Press. The AP reported late last week that meltblown textile—a crucial component for the masks—was still scarce, forcing a bottleneck on production. Moreover, the AP reports a discrepancy among agencies on how dire the situation actually is.

“White House officials say U.S. hospitals have all the medical supplies needed to battle the deadly virus, but frontline workers, hospital officials and even the Food and Drug Administration say that’s not the case,” the agency reported.

Multiple hospital officials went on record to say that, not only are supplies not back to pre-COVID-19 levels, but they have, in some instances, “only gotten worse.”

AnanR2107 / Getty Images

The raw material needed to make N95 masks is still in short supply, according to the Associated Press. The AP reported late last week that meltblown textile—a crucial component for the masks—was still scarce, forcing a bottleneck on production. Moreover, the AP reports a discrepancy among agencies on how dire the situation actually is.

Manufacturers say that, even though the federal government did sign contracts with companies, long-term investments haven’t been made, so there’s no guarantee that the government would continue to buy the textile after the increased need for N95s recedes.

White House trade adviser Peter Navarro, meanwhile, maintains that there is no shortage.

Mandates

At the beginning of April, President Donald J. Trump announced a memorandum on the Order Under the Defense Production Act Regarding 3M Company and its production of N95 masks.

The memorandum was issued to the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

As written in the memorandum, the President has directed that Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, through the Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, use any and all authorities available under the Act to acquire N95 respirators from 3M Company or any of its appropriate subsidiaries or affiliates.

The AP reports that, between mid-April and early May, four N95 manufacturers—O&M Halyard, Honeywell, 3M and Holingsworth and Vose—received a total of $134.5 million to increase production. The federal government also approved smaller contracts this summer with NPS Corp. and Lydall to bolster meltblown production.

However, the AP continued, the Trump administration has not specifically restricted exports of meltblown material.

Alternatives

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration released initial interim enforcement guidance to help combat the shortage of N95 filtering facepiece respirators back in April.

“Due to the impact on workplace conditions caused by limited supplies of N95 FFRs, employers should reassess their engineering controls, work practices and administrative controls to identify any changes they can make to decrease the need for N95 respirators,” said OSHA in the news release at the time.

If respiratory protection must be used, employers are to consider use of alternative classes of respirators that provide equal or greater protection compared to an N95 FFR, such as National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health-approved, non-disposable, elastomeric respirators or powered, air-purifying respirators.

If alternatives are not available, or when their use creates an additional safety or health hazard, employers are to consider the extended use or reuse of N95 FFRs or new N95 FFRs that were approved but have passed the manufacturer’s recommended shelf life.

Then, in May, OSHA issued further interim enforcement guidance on the reusing of disposable N95 FFRs. That guidance focused more on how to decontaminate the FFRs.

In that guidance, it cited NIOSH, which identified available research that suggests the following methods for decontaminating FFRs:

  • Vaporous hydrogen peroxide;
  • Ultraviolet germicidal irradiation;
  • Moist heat (i.e., using an oven); or
  • Microwave-generated steam or liquid hydrogen peroxide.

OSHA also listed methods that are not considered acceptable at this time:

  • Autoclaving;
  • Dry heat;
  • Isopropyl alcohol;
  • Soap;
  • Dry microwave irradiation;
  • Chlorine bleach;
  • Disinfectant wipes; or
  • Ethylene oxide.

“Employers should investigate the effectiveness of any particular decontamination method used for the specific filtering facepiece respirator model to be decontaminated,” OSHA noted.

“Employers should be able to demonstrate the effectiveness of any decontamination method used against the likely contaminant(s) (i.e., pathogens) of concern, and that the decontamination method used does not produce additional safety hazards.”

Those guidelines remain in effect until further notice.

Most recently, late last month, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health—part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—released guidance on counterfeit respirators.

NIOSH said that counterfeit respirators are being sold in the U.S. and that the models might not be providing appropriate respiratory protection.

NIOSH noted a few things to look for when verifying respirators.

“NIOSH-approved respirators have an approval label on or within the packaging of the respirator (i.e. on the box itself and/or within the users’ instructions),” NIOSH said. “Additionally, an abbreviated approval is on the FFR itself. You can verify the approval number on the NIOSH Certified Equipment List or the NIOSH Trusted-Source page to determine if the respirator has been approved by NIOSH. NIOSH-approved FFRs will always have one the following designations: N95, N99, N100, R95, R99, R100, P95, P99, P100.”

Signs that a respirator could be counterfeit include:

  • No markings at all on the filtering facepiece respirator;
  • No approval (TC) number on filtering facepiece respirator or headband;
  • No NIOSH markings;
  • NIOSH spelled incorrectly;
  • Presence of decorative fabric or other decorative add-ons;
  • Claims for the of approval for children (NIOSH does not approve any type of respiratory protection for children); and
  • Filtering facepiece respirator has ear loops instead of headbands.

Several examples are listed here and NIOSH says that as it becomes aware of more counterfeit respirators or items misrepresenting NIOSH approval, it will post the information there as well.

   

Tagged categories: COVID-19; Government; Health & Safety; Health and safety; NA; North America; Respirators; Safety

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