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Save Your Breath

Lowell Forristall is no stranger to the uncomfortable, and
potentially chronic repercussions of agricultural airway hazards. After an
incident or two, the Carson, Iowa, farmer began wearing a respirator.

“I was sick for three days after cleaning a soybean bin,” he
says. “I also have some lung scarring from handling corn.”

A growing number of farmers today wear personal protective
equipment. However, Carolyn Sheridan, AgriSafe Network clinical director and
Spencer (Iowa) Hospital AgriSafe director, still fields a lot of questions
about how to care, store, and replace respirators and masks.

The two types of two-strap particulate respirators/masks
(Figures 1 and 2) are disposable. Figure 2 has an exhalation valve, designed to
help reduce moisture buildup, an issue if you wear glasses.

“You may be able to wear a two-strap mask more than once,
depending on the temperature, humidity, and exposure levels,” Sheridan says. “But
they’re designed to be worn one time.”

Signs of wear and tear may be obvious. “Sometimes the
exhalation valve is curled up, or one strap is stretched out,” she says.

Half mask reusable respirators eliminate dust, gases, or
fumes. They’re available from several companies, including North and 3M.

“The straps, cradle, and valves can be replaced when they
wear out,” Sheridan says. “That makes them more economical.”

Half masks are worn with cartridges or filters. “The
reusable half mask with filters is a good all-around respirator if a cartridge
isn’t needed,” Sheridan says.

Replace a particulate filter when:

  • It’s difficult to breathe comfortably.
  • It’s dirty or physically damaged.

A gas or vapor cartridge has an expiration date, but its
life span is determined by use conditions. “If you can smell or taste what you’re
being exposed to, replace it before continuing,” Sheridan says. (It does not
protect you from pit gases.)

Cartridges include a prefilter. “The prefilter can be
replaced several times before you ever have to replace the cartridge,” she

To clean a half mask, remove the filters, cartridges, or
canister. “Half masks should be washed daily – or at least once a week – with
warm water and a mild detergent,” she says.

Storage also requires thought and planning. “It’s best to
store used respirators in a bag that’s breathable,” she says. “If you store a
mask in a container with a lid and the mask is moist, it could grow bacteria or
mold.” Availability and convenience also are important factors.

For more on selecting the right mask for a job, getting the
right fit, and proper care and storage, visit the Central States Center for
Agricultural Safety and Health, website at or
the AgriSafe Network website at

Image, above:

  • Figure 1: N-95 two-strap disposable particulate respirator. Price: $1.25 each.
  • Figure 2: N-95 two-strap particulate respirator with exhalation valve. Price: $3.50 each.
  • Figure 3: Half mask reusable North respirator with
    particulate filters. 
  • Price: $34.25. (Prefilter price: $1.25 each.)
  • Figure 4: Pancake filter compatible with half mask reusable
    North respirator. Price: $6.50 per pair.
  • Figure 5: 3M ammonia cartridge compatible with 3M half mask. Price: $13 per pair.
  • Figure 6: Pesticide or paint cartridge compatible with North
    mask. Price: $11 per pair.

All items are average costs. They’re sold by AgriSafe
Network, Gempler’s, other suppliers, and at some retail locations.

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AgriSafe Network | 866/312-3002

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