Navigating Performance Standards for Face Mask Materials: A Custom‐Built Apparatus for Measuring Particle Filtration Efficiency
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Public health agencies have recommended the community use of face masks to reduce the transmission of airborne diseases like COVID-19. Virus transmission is reduced when masks act as efficient filters, thus evaluating mask particle filtration efficiency (PFE) is essential. However, the high cost and long lead times associated with purchasing turn-key PFE systems or hiring certified laboratories hampers the testing of filter materials. There is a clear need for "custom" PFE test systems; however, the variety of standards that prescribe (medical) face mask PFE testing (e.g., ASTM International, NIOSH) vary widely in their protocols and clarity of guidelines. Herein, the development is described of an "in-house" PFE system and method for testing face masks in the context of current standards for medical masks. Pursuant to the ASTM International standards, the system uses an aerosol of latex spheres (0.1 µm nominal size) with particle concentrations upstream and downstream of the mask material measured using a laser particle analyzer. PFE measurements are obtained for a variety of common fabrics and medical masks. The approach described in this work conforms to the current standards for PFE testing while providing the flexibility to adapt to changing needs and filtration conditions.