The N95 Mask is now one of the most significant and sought-after health devices of the 21st century. The small polymer cup has been widely used as protective equipment, and has saved a lot of lives. The origin of the N95 can be traced way back to the Renaissance era, where people would cover their noses with cloth to avoid the plague. Fast Company has more details:
e The N95 mask is a descendant of Wu’s design. Through World War I and World War II, scientists invented air-filtering gas masks that wrapped around your entire head to clean the air supply. Similar masks, loaded with fiberglass filters, began to be used in the mining industry to prevent black lung.
“All the respirators were these giant, gas mask-looking things,” says Nikki McCullough, an occupational health and safety leader at 3M, which manufactures N95 respirators. “You’d wash them out at night and you could wear them again.”
his equipment saved lives, but it was burdensome, and a large reason why were the filters. The fiberglass required a lot of effort to breathe, and the full head enclosures were hot to wear. By the 1950s, scientists began to understand the dangers of inhaling asbestos, but people working with asbestos preferred not to wear bulky respirator masks. Imagine working in construction in 85-degree heat and having your head wrapped in rubber to protect yourself from an invisible threat.
So in the 1970s, the Bureau of Mines and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health teamed up on creating the first criteria for what they called “single use respirators.” The first single-use N95 “dust” respirator as we know it was developed by 3M, according to the company, and approved on May 25, 1972. Instead of fiberglass, the company repurposed a technology it had developed for making stiffer gift ribbons into a filter, by taking a melted polymer and air-blasted it into layers of tiny fibers. “They look like somebody dropped a bunch of sticks—and they have huge spaces between them,” says McCullough.
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