The American Lung Association has declared October – “Healthy Lung Month.”  Because our lungs are a very important part of our respiratory system, we need to do all we can to keep them healthy.  Bacteria, viruses, tobacco smoke, air pollution, chemicals – any of those things that we breathe can damage the airways and threaten to cause the lungs to not work properly. 

The air we breathe affects us at home, school, work, or outdoors.  Because the environment is full of pollutants, the media even gives us warning of pollen counts and other breathing hazards on a daily basis.  The United States Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.), Occupational Safety and Health Administration, (dictates standards to protect workers’ lungs), and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, (researches and generates knowledge of work-related illness), all are working to educate and enforce the importance of safety issues such as air quality for America’s workforce. 

In the workplace, respirators are an important tool of personal protective equipment to aide workers who must breathe in pollutants such as dust, chemicals, gases, fumes, oil-based aerosols, asbestos, and other air-borne particulates.  Respirators are also used in healthcare settings, such as hospitals, and by EMS/EMT, fire and rescue, school healthcare, industrial and manufacturing industries. 

Dust masks are loose-fitting filters that fit over the nose and mouth, capturing dust on the outside while the wearer breathes in air.  Respirators will have NIOSH marked on the outside, meaning they have been tested and certified.  There are many types of designs and uses of respirators.  The type of respirator to be selected depends on the hazards of each particular setting.  There are an estimated five million workers in the U.S. that are required to wear respirators in 1.3 million workplaces in the United States. 

 There are more than 159,000 deaths in the U.S. per year from lung cancer, the leading cause of cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control.  Although smoking is thought to be the leading cause of lung cancer, those workers who wear respirators are better protected from airborne hazards – many of which have been known to cause cancer, lung impairment, asthma, and other diseases, or death.   Last year, because of the H1N1 virus, respirators were in high demand.  I know several persons who wear a respirator when they travel, to avoid catching a “bug.”

It is important that employers take the time to check the air quality of the environment their workers are in every day.  Respirators should be selected and tested on each worker for proper fit.  The choice must be based on the workplace contaminants, concentrations, and all other specific conditions.  All selections should be compliant with State, Federal, and Local regulations on workers safety including but not limited to OSHA regulations on respiratory protection (29CFR 1910.134.)  Some respirators are suited for environments free from oil-based contaminants.  Others are used for types of gases, fumes, oil-based aerosols, and asbestos. 

We need to start our children out with healthy lungs, by keeping our homes properly ventilated and smoke-free.  It’s harmful for children to have to ride in a car that is full of smoke.  Outdoor activities are important for kids and adults, too, so report any locations that may cause pollution in your neighborhood.  Next, we need to be sure that their schools have healthy atmospheres.  They should be built with adequate ventilation and be cleaned regularly.  School buses may contribute to air pollution. 

Focus on good health for you and your family.  Keeping your lungs nice and pink is a smart thing to do.  Too many times we need to stop and take a deep breath, and if your lungs aren’t in good shape, it’s hard to do.