Face masks protect against aerosolized toxins from algal blooms, study finds

Protect yourself from the toxins of blue-green algae. Credit: Florida Department of Health

MIAMI – Intense toxic algal blooms are becoming common along the Florida coast and elsewhere. The results of a new study led by scientists at the University of Miami (UM) found that wearing the face mask that everyone has become accustomed to during the COVID-19 pandemic can also help protect against these airborne toxins.

Researchers at UM Rosenstiel’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences designed an experiment to understand how effective commonly available air conditioning filters and face masks are in filtering out toxins emitted during harmful algal bloom events.

“We found that air conditioning filters and masks with high filter performance ratings can reduce the risk of exposure by filtering out small particles that contain toxins,” said study lead author Cassandra Gaston, assistant professor of atmospheric sciences at the UM Rosenstiel. School.

“These filter materials can also be effective in filtering out other types of small particles,” said Haley Royer, co-lead author of the study and Ph.D. student of the Department of Atmospheric Sciences of the Rosenstiel School of the UM. “As we all know by now, masks are essential to prevent person-to-person transmission of COVID-19.”

Harmful algal blooms, often referred to as red tides and blue-green algae, are exacerbated by nutrient-rich runoff from agriculture and industrial wastes that end up in waterways. Harmful particles enter the air primarily from breaking waves, resulting in airborne toxins that cause serious health problems for humans and marine life. Airborne toxins can also affect indoor air quality, especially in businesses and homes near polluted waterways.

Credit: University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Miami Department of Public Health Sciences

To conduct the experiment, the researchers created a bubbling device to produce airborne toxin-containing particles in the laboratory by bubbling air into the liquid containing cultures of a toxic-producing blue-green algae. Microcystis aeruginosa. Cutouts from three types of face masks and six types of AC filters purchased from home improvement stores were placed online with the generated particles to determine how well the masks and filters block particles of different sizes. The researchers used N95, a disposable surgical mask, and medical grade carbon fiber masks that filter odors. For AC filters, the researchers used filters for window units and central air conditioning units with different filter performance ratings.

They found that the AC filters filtered between 20 and 90% of the particulates in the air and the particulate filtration increased as the filter performance rating increased. The masks filter more than 90% of the particles that contain toxins. The findings suggest that inexpensive, commercially available face masks and air conditioning filters with high rates of filtration efficiency can help prevent both indoor and outdoor exposure to harmful toxins from algae bloom in the garden. air.

Harmful algal blooms are expected to become more frequent around the world due to climate change and increased nutrient runoff from a growing human population.

According to the researchers, the study also has relevance for the transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for the current COVID-19 pandemic. The virus has an average size of 60-140 nanometers, which is within the size of the particles investigated in this study.

The filter could slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus in the air

More information:
Cassandra J. Gaston et al, Filtration efficiency of air conditioning filters and face masks to limit exposure to aerosolized algal toxins, Aerosol and air quality research (2021). DOI: 10.4209 / aaqr.210016

Provided by the University of Miami

Citation: Face Masks Protect Against Aerosol Toxins From Algal Blooms, According To Study (Aug 6, 2021) Retrieved Aug 7, 2021 From https://medicalxpress.com/news/2021-08-masks- aerosolized-toxins-algal-blooms.html

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