At the start of 2021, the FFP2 mask is becoming increasingly popular to fight against the spread of Covid-19. This air purifying respiratory protective equipment offering a high level of protection is still not well-known by the general public. We take stock of this type of mask and its use in the face of the coronavirus epidemic.
The Covid-19 & the FFP2 mask
Faced with Covid-19 and its more contagious variants, health authorities in different countries are turning to FFP2 mask wearing in order to limit the increased risk of contamination. In Austria, they are now mandatory in transportation, shops and service places. Germany has also made it mandatory to wear this type of protective mask.
In France, the High Council for Public Health recommends wearing high performance category 1 single-use masks (according to the EN 14683 standard) for the General public. At the same time, the HCPH recommends the use of the FFP2 mask only for healthcare personnel practicing invasive procedures and performing manipulations on the respiratory tract.
What is an FFP2 mask?
The surgical mask VS the FFP2 mask
To understand why the FFP2 mask is popular in the fight against the Sars-CoV-2 epidemic, it is necessary to understand the difference between a surgical mask and respiratory protective masks categorized as FFP.
Surgical masks meeting the NF EN 14683 standard are, as their name suggests, primarily intended for medical use. Depending on their type (I, II or IIR) they prevent droplets projection but do not prevent aerosols inhalation (very fine particles suspended in the air). However, the Covid-19 transmission risk by aerosols is considerable. It is one of the three transmission modes of the Sars-CoV-2 (the others being: contact with respiratory droplets, secretions from breathing, coughing and sneezing, and contact with an infected person or surface).
Respiratory protection masks categorized as FFP according to the NF EN 149 standard are dedicated to protect against the finest particles present in ambient air and specifically aerosols. This is why they are currently prized to prevent Covid-19 contamination as much as possible.
Respiratory protection masks
NF EN 14683 standard
bacteria filtration 95% minimum
bacteria filtration 98% minimum
bacteria filtration 98% minimum
+ splash proof
NF EN 149 standard
aerosol filtration 80% minimum
aerosol filtration 94% minimum
aerosol filtration 99% minimum
NIOSH certification (USA)
aerosol filtration 95% minimum
The FFP2 protection
Designed with multiple layers of innovative filtering materials, disposable FFP2 masks are easy to use, affordable, and offer protection against viral particles such as Covid-19.
The FFP2 mask is a respiratory protection that filters at least 94% of aerosols with an inward leakage rate of less than 8%. Commonly used in many environments, it is a respiratory protection mask compliant to the NF EN 149 standard (similar to the American N95 mask, or the KN95 for South Korea). Outside the medical environment, this PPE (personal protective equipment) is used in various industries for woodworking, metal processing, or waste disposal. Indeed, FFP2 protection provides a high level of safety against various elements such as very fine particles of wood, metal, welding fumes, droplets and aerosols from paint, varnish and viruses.
FFP (for Filtering Facepiece Particles) protection is available as disposable masks but also as gas mask filters. For example, combined filter cartridges like the A2-P3 offer protection against organic and inorganic gases and vapors with a boiling point above 65 ° and against solid & liquid microparticles.
Contrary to popular belief, an FFP2 PPE does not always take the form of a duckbill mask. Indeed, the FFP2 qualification does not depend on its form but on its protection level against particles and aerosols. The FFP2 protection level can be attributed to many equipment types and forms. A duckbill, shell, medical, consumer, disposable, reusable or dust-proof mask can obtain this qualification. The same is true for other filtering respiratory protection equipment such as full gas masks or powered air purifying respirators that can be fitted with anti-particle protection filters up to the FFP3 level.
Some FFP2 masks can be fitted with an exhalation valve. Wearing non-motorized air purifying (filtering) respiratory protective equipment requires a respiratory effort proportional to the equipment’s protection level. An FFP2 mask without valve therefore involves resistance during inhalation and exhalation. Whatever mask shape you choose, the exhalation valve will allow exhaled air to escape more easily. Thus, these valve PPE bring great comfort to their wearer. This is why respiratory protection with an incorporated valve is generally more popular for demanding jobs (sanding, spray painting, etc.).
Which FFP2 mask for Covid-19 protection?
For optimal protection against Covid-19, the important thing is to select a mask shape that is properly fitting the face in order to optimize the use of this PPE. At the same time, disposable FFP2 masks should be favored and changed regularly for maximum protection.
Finally, wearing PPE with a valve is providing real comfort and remains an effective protection solution for the wearer, but is likely to let escape aerosols emitted by its wearer into ambient air.
Opt for an FFP3 mask?
The FFP3 mask provides respiratory protection that filters at least 99% of aerosols with an inward leakage rate of less than 2%. This type of equipment constitutes the maximum level of protection. The use of an FFP3 mask as protection against Covid-19 contamination through the respiratory route may appear to be relevant or even necessary in certain circumstances. However, it is important to note that wearing this type of protection is most often subject to a significant breathing effort. It is therefore generally difficult to wear this equipment all day without feeling discomfort. In order to solve this respiratory resistance problem when wearing an FFP3 mask, some manufacturers are expanding their research efforts and offering increasingly comfortable equipment. For example, the filtration specialist GVS has developed the F31000 FFP3 mask offering maximum protection with minimum respiratory resistance. The same goes for the manufacturer Dräger, that optimizes protection and comfort with the CoolSAFE filtering technology of its X-plore 1900 dust mask.
It is also necessary to remember that the chosen respiratory protection mask must be worn and handled according to health authorities’ recommendations. Whether it is a surgical, FFP2, FFP3 mask or a conventional gas mask, there are many precautions to take. Furthermore, and while it is imperative for optimal protection, the correct fit of the mask on the face is still too often neglected.