Chemical weapons and chemical warfare have been banned indefinitely under the 1925 Geneva Protocol which should infer that we have little to worry about as far as dying from asphyxiating gas or having our lungs melted by chlorine, right?
Unfortunately, a quick trip down memory lane reveals that tyrannical dictatorships, rogue mercenary groups, and terrorists have little regard for the treaty against chemical weapons and since 2012, there have been over 300 documented unlawful chemical attacks.
If the laws fail to end chemical warfare and treaties aren’t upheld by everyone, there is little you can do other than suit up and be prepared with the proper equipment. Gas masks seem like a thing of the past, something you’d see only in a historical war film, but the truth is, everyone should probably have a few on hand and ready to go.
Obtaining a gas mask can be a little tricky since they come in many different styles and designs. Before we go out and spend our hard-earned money on a gas mask that may or may not be up to the task of saving our life, we need to understand the basic principals behind the operation of a gas mask.
How a Gas Mask Works
A gas mask’s primary usage is to ensure the user is breathing in clean air, protected from toxic elements in their environment. If you find yourself in the event of a pandemic, chemical or biological attack, placing a gas mask on your face may be the difference between life and horrendously painful death.
Gas masks operate on two basic principles. The first is the utilization of a particle filter, similar to what you’d find in an air-purifying system. These consist of a simple physical barrier designed specifically to close off the air you breath from the air outside of the mask. This barrier ensures contaminants aren’t leaking into the mask and polluting your air supply by creating a fibrous barrier that traps and entangles particles such as bacteria, protecting you from biological threats.
The second feature of a gas mask is the implementation of a chemical bond between toxic molecules and carbon, which is a highly absorptive material widely used in air purification systems. This carbon-based material essentially traps dangerous particles such as sarin gas and removes them from the stream of air entering your mask.
Air filters found inside gas masks can vary greatly in design and capability, but for the most part, they use something like activated charcoal or oxidized charcoal to attract and remove contaminants from the air.
Charcoal is one of the leading elements for filtering out particles in the air because once it’s activated with oxygen, on a molecular level, it becomes a bit like a very tightly knit chicken wire fence. Particles moving through the filter become trapped in this fence and never make it into the actual mask itself, protecting us from any and all contaminants. Many of the best gas masks are capable of trapping 99.9% of harmful particles, but this comes at a tradeoff.
Since these charcoal fences are so tightly compressed, the filter will trap many particles rather quickly, essentially filling up the holes in the fence that allow air to travel through the filter. Once a large amount of these holes become full of particles, the mask becomes difficult to breathe through and begins losing its trapping and filtering capabilities.
Related: How to make your own charcoal?
Gas masks are only meant to be worn for a specific time duration, typically dependent on the capacity of the filter. If you find yourself in a situation where a gas mask is warranted, you need to quickly devise an exit plan and find fresh air as soon as possible. Furthermore, stocking up on backup filters is imperative, especially if there was a large scale war between two major countries or a virus outbreak with no foreseeable vaccination.
Old gas masks such as war relics found in military surplus stores are not safe to use and may, in fact, be dangerous to the user. The old Russian GP-5 gas mask filters actually trapped particles by using asbestos! Expired filters can degrade and send their filtering particles in the lungs of the user. I suppose surviving a chemical attack no matter the cost is something attractive to most people, but dying a few years later of cancer certainly isn’t ideal.
As a final note, since most people stocking up on protective gas mask equipment won’t be using them until an attack or chemical accident occurs, you need to protect your filters from degrading and going bad over time. Just sitting on a shelf, a filter will trap particles in the air that passes through it, so many people either buy a special container or have filters that come with a protective cap over the filter. Furthermore, even protected filters expire from degradation, so ensure you’re checking the dates and keeping fresh filters in stock.
What Can a Gas Mask Protect You From?
First and foremost, the magic is in the rating of the filter you’re using and the quality of mask it’s attached to. Ideally, you’d have your gas mask equipped with a NATO CBRN rated filter, which is of the highest ratings for personal respiratory protection.
A NATO NBC or NATO CBRN filter attached to a minimum of NBC rated gas mask that is properly sealed against your face can protect from a myriad of environmental threats including asbestos, oil-based chemicals, bacteria, viruses, fungi, mustard gas, sarin gas, pepper spray, tear gas, and nerve agents.
A filter, no matter its quality, is nothing without a proper gas mask supporting it and sealing off the air supply. Buying a gas mask that is rated for “NBC” usage is ideally what you’d want to look for at a minimum. NBC gas masks ensure protection from radioactive nuclear particles, biological organisms, and chemical toxins.
A CBRN gas mask is one step higher than an NBC and is what first responders, riot police, and the military primarily use. If you want the absolute best protection, spending the extra to get a CBRN mask is probably a good investment. These masks implement stronger materials and build quality to protect from physical damage, are lighter and easier to maneuver while using, encompass a very wide field of view, and allow for filter swaps even when in a dangerous situation.
Half-Masks Versus Full-Face Masks
The two are actually very similar in how they work in terms of filtering the air you breathe and keeping dangerous particles out of your body. They will both cover and protect the mouth and nose and will utilize a built-in valve that regulates the air coming in and exhaled CO2.
A full-face unit offers a much higher level of protection to the user since it encapsulates much more than just your nose and mouth area and sometimes even your entire head. In many cases where chemical weapons are used, the particles actually attach and irritate the skin and other parts of your body such as the eyes.A half-mask may be a good back-up or lightweight tool to carry with you, but if possible, having a full-face mask on hand is ideal. If a chemical such as chlorine gas is introduced into your environment, you’ll almost certainly lose your vision if you use a half-mask. Your eyes will burn and water and the danger you’re in will be multiplied by the fact that gas is being absorbed into the eyes and causing serious damage, debilitating amounts of pain, and blindness.
Full masks also offer a tighter and more complete seal around the face. In the event you fall or come into contact with something, it is much less likely that your gas mask leaks or becomes compromised.
In the event of a biological pandemic or biological weapon, a half-mask simply won’t suffice. Most pandemic level viruses and bacteria like Ebola can enter the body through the eyes rendering your safe air supply basically useless. Ideally, in a pandemic or radioactive situation, you would want a full-face gas mask with a hood and protection for the rest of your body as well.
Tips For Using a Gas Mask
Gas masks are fairly easy to use and will come with the proper instructions on how to put them on and strap them down tightly. You should practice putting on your gas mask and also helping others to put theirs on. Perhaps you should practice in the dark too, ensuring you can strap up even without seeing what you’re doing.
Remember, if you have a significant amount of facial hair, your gas mask may have trouble creating a seal on your skin, allowing unfiltered air to seep in.
Using a gas mask will come with a lot of negative drawbacks in terms of mobility, comfort and overall usage. Wearing a gas mask will almost always result in a headache due to the pressure on your face and the possibility of breathing in more CO2 than normal.
If it’s hot outside, expect your face to feel like its inside of an oven. A gas mask does not allow heat to escape and all of that hot breath adds up incredibly quickly. Making matters even worse, profuse sweating could hinder the effectiveness of your mask in the same way that facial hair does.
Breathing through a filter is significantly more difficult than breathing normally and may catch you off guard, especially if your heart rate is elevated due to stress or physical movement. Over a long duration, this effect compounds and can create significant fatigue and exhaustion.
Remember, you need a filter that can both protect you from the possible dangers you may incur and fits your gas mask properly. Most gas masks come with a 40mm threaded platform to attach the filter to the mask, but some masks may have proprietary threads or utilize a different kind of attachment method.
Buying a gas mask can be surprisingly difficult. There are many options out there that claim many different things, making it difficult to identify exactly what gas mask is perfect for you. Conducting lots of research and physically testing them is probably your best bet!
There are tons of things you should be doing to prepare for chemical and biological threats and gas masks are just one piece of the puzzle, but breathing and seeing are certainly vital to your survival and should be at the forefront of your priority list.
This article was gladly contributed by author Corporal Wabo from marineapproved.com.
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