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PPE for Schools: A guide to ASTM International’s new mask standard

A guide to ASTM International’s new mask standard
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Posted by Charnett Moffett on Tue, 04/27/2021

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, ASTM International published its first-ever standard for face coverings to help establish minimum design, performance, labeling and care requirements for reusable barrier face coverings.
Download: ASTM Standard Specification for Barrier Face Coverings
ASTM is leading a global effort to advance personal protective equipment (PPE) standards and alleviate shortages.
The mask standard released by ASTM is more in-depth than current CDC recommendations, and includes specific guidance for mask design and minimum performance requirements. Since the need for masks is likely to continue into 2022, this guidance will help ensure that manufacturers are distributing PPE that is effective – and is especially important for industries that need to procure non-medical face coverings, such as K-12 education.
“Teachers have enough to worry about when it comes to returning to the classroom, and we ensure PPE and proper filtration supplies aren’t among those concerns,” said Kelly Kleinfelder, Chief Information Officer & SVP, Information Technology at SDI. “Demand for PPE remains at an all-time high, and as schools begin to reopen, that demand will just increase. While evaluating PPE, districts should also be mindful of the new ASTM 3502 standards as well as the expiration date of the supplies that they have in inventory.”
Here’s how the new standard will impact PPE procurement for schools.

What prompted the new PPE standard?

In a prior whitepaper, ASTM International outlined the challenges facing PPE quality and availability that prompted the creation of a PPE standard for barrier face coverings.
Download: Global Collaboration to Advance Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Safety, Quality, and Innovation

  • Lack of standardization, qualification, and certification: While standards and requirements exist for other types of PPE, there were major gaps for cloth face coverings and transparent face shields.
  • Reuse of single-use PPE: Reprocessing and reusing PPE items is one way to address shortages, but there was a lack of tests and methods for washing and sanitizing single use PPE.
  • New environments and uses: PPE is being used in new, unexpected ways and environments – like schools.

School systems with an existing inventory of PPE should consider ASTM’s mask design and performance standards to ensure their products are up-to-par.

ASTM Guidance: Mask design

 ASTM’s standard clearly outlines the design of an effective face mask, with requirements including:

  • The barrier face covering shall be designed to cover at least the wearer’s nose and mouth and fit snugly where the product contacts the wearer’s face to reduce gaps.
  • Portions of the barrier face covering materials that contact the wearer’s skin shall be made of non-irritating and nontoxic materials.
  • Barrier face coverings shall be permitted to be either disposable (single use) or reusable (multiple uses).
  • Barrier face coverings shall be constructed of materials and designed in such a way that they will not be damaged by ordinary handling, donning, and doffing.
  • Barrier face coverings that are intended to be reusable shall be constructed of materials and designed such that they will not be damaged by ordinary handling, donning, and doffing after being repeatedly subjected to laundering or cleaning as specified by the manufacturer.
  • Barrier face coverings shall be designed, shaped, or have features that aid in minimizing the flow of air around the perimeter of the product. 5.1.7 Barrier face coverings shall not have vents, valves, or other open pathways as part of their design.
  • Barrier face coverings with replaceable filters shall have means for preventing the improper placement of the filters.
  • Barrier face coverings that include transparent materials for the purpose of allowing others to view the wearer’s lips shall afford sufficient filtration material to provide the function of source control.

ASTM Guidance: Mask performance

ASTM’s mask standard provides detailed instructions for testing and requires that manufacturers assess their product to ensure it meets the minimum requirements for particulate filtration and airflow resistance – as indicated in the table below.

Barrier Face Covering Minimum Performance Requirements

Source: ASTM International Standard Specification for Barrier Face Coverings F3502 − 21

The standard also includes guidance for the reprocessing and reuse of PPE. If a mask is labeled as reusable, it must include user instructions for cleaning or laundering, as well as limitations and product replacement and disposal procedures. 

What does the new mask standard mean for school districts?

 Since having enough PPE is essential to school reopening plans, it’s important that district leaders remain vigilant in partnering with suppliers whose masks comply with ASTM’s new standard.
In an email to CNN, an ASTM International spokesperson explained that “The new specification for barrier face coverings addresses a key gap and will support consumer confidence when purchasing a face covering that’s labeled as meeting the ASTM standard.”
The new standard will help improve the quality of masks that are available in the marketplace, and hopefully, curb the potential for counterfeit products.
Manufacturers are required to test their facial coverings in accredited labs to certify performance, register their products and use the outlined ASTM labeling system on their products. If a face covering has ASTM’s seal of approval, it is safe to purchase.

How do I know if a mask meets ASTM’s new standard?

According to the new standard, an approved barrier face covering label should have at a minimum: the manufacturer’s name, identification, designation, or logo; the barrier face covering model or style; and the following statement: “MEETS ASTM F3502.”  If your school district works with a supplier, they should be able to provide this guidance.
SDI partners with a vast network of vetted, secured, and contracted suppliers, and our team is here to answer all of your mask, PPE and other related questions. Contact us today to learn more.

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