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MSHA and NIOSH have granted approvals for manufacturers' specific assemblies of air-purifying respirators for a limited number of specific chemicals. Respirators should be used only for those substances for which they have been approved. Use -of a sorbent shall not be allowed when there is reason to suspect that it does not provide adequate sorption efficiency against a specific contaminant. In addition, it should be noted that approval testing is performed at a given temperature and over a narrow range of flow rates and relative humidities, thus protection may be compromised in nonstandard conditions. The assembly that has been approved by MSHA and NIOSH to protect against organic vapors is tested against only a single challenge substance, carbon tetrachloride; its effectiveness for protecting against other vapors has not been demonstrated.

Most chemical sorbent canisters are imprinted with an expiration date. They may be used up to that date as long as they were not opened previously. Once opened, they begin to absorb humidity and air contaminants whether or not they are in use. Their efficiency and service life
decreases and therefore they should be used immediately. Cartridges should be discarded after use but should not be used for longer than one shift or when breakthrough occurs, whichever comes first.

Where a canister or cartridge is being used against gases or vapors, the appropriate device shall be used only if the chemical(s) have "adequate warning properties" (30 CFR Part 11.150). NIOSH considers a substance to have adequate warning properties when its odor, taste, or irritant effects are detectable and persistent at concentrations below the recommended exposure limit (REL) (see HAZWOPER training link below). A substance is considered to have poor warning properties when its odor or irritation threshold is above the applicable exposure limit. Warning properties are essential to safe use of air-purifying respirators since they allow detection of contaminant breakthrough, should it occur. While warning properties are not foolproof, because they rely on human senses which vary widely among individuals and in the same individual under varying conditions (e.g., olfactory fatigue), they do provide some indication of possible sorbent exhaustion, poor facepiece fit, or other malfunctions. OSHA permits the use of air-purifying respirators for protection against specific chemicals with poor warning properties provided that (1) the service life of the sorbent is known and a safety factor has been applied or (2) the respirator has an approved end-of-servicelife indicator.

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