Potential Respirator Shortage Due to COVID-19

N95 Mask

Potential Respirator Shortage Due to COVID-19

Personal protective equipment (PPE) may be in short supply, regionally or nationally, in the 2020 growing season. Members of the American Association of Pesticide Safety Educators (AAPSE) are raising the alarm so that agricultural producers can be prepared.

With the critical need for N95 respirators in the health care field, there are few if any “dust/mist” type respirators or particulate filters (N, P, or HE) available in the marketplace, as of April 2020. Distributors are not even accepting new orders at this time, and back-orders have delivery-dates in June, July, or later.

  • Pesticides may not be applied without the label-required PPE.
  • Home-made masks are not sufficient substitutes for label-required respirators/masks.
  • No exemption or relaxation of the requirements has been made by EPA.
  • Users may need to select alternative products or practices, if required PPE is not available. For example, re-usable gloves can be washed and re-used in the absence of disposable gloves.
  • If users go without required PPE, it may present an additional burden to emergency departments.

Some herbicide, fungicide, and insecticide labels require respirators to prevent unacceptable levels of exposure. Structural pest control operators often wear PPE to protect themselves in confined spaces, in addition to label requirements. Many pesticide applicators may not feel the effects of PPE shortages until later in the year, so this is an opportunity for them to plan ahead.

What can people in the Ag industry do to prepare?

  • Review product labels to identify key products that require respiratory protection.
  • Evaluate existing inventory and/or availability of PPE.
  • Seek alternative products or practices if PPE is not obtainable. There may be a very similar product available with different label requirements.
  • Check that the alternative pesticide is registered for use in Nebraska (first in the list of Sleuthing Tools listed below).

In addition, AAPSE has information on COVID-19 and its effect on PPE.

Regarding PPE, remember that you can always wear PPE that offers more protection than the label requires. For respirators, that might be confusing. Keep in mind that the N95 disposable filtering facemask (with two straps, NIOSH-approved) is equal to a half-mask or full-face respirator with N95 particulate filters. You could also use the N99 or N100 disposable filtering facemasks (again, NIOSH-approved) or particulate filters on the face-mask respirators, as these would give more protection. Keep in mind that you must have a medical evaluation clearing you for the type of respirator and a fit test for each type and model of respirator prior to use.

For more info on respirators, see “Respirators For Handling Pesticides (EC3021)”.

Hunting for Alternative Products and Practices

  • Nebraska Department of Agriculture Database from Kelly Solutions - This information is compiled solely from pesticide registration data submitted by companies who wish their products to be sold in the state of Nebraska, combined with data from the EPA with regard to ingredients, pests, and sites. It is searchable by company, product, pest, site, and active ingredient, to name just a few search options.
  • CDMS Label Database - Crop Data Management Systems (CDMS) works with key pesticide registrants, hosting their current labels and Safety Data Sheets online.
  • Pesticide Information Center Online (PICOL) for WA and OR – The search menu can find products by crop and pesticide type, and filter by target pest to seek out alternatives, and view current approved labels.
  • Agrian - Works with manufacturers to have labels and other supporting documents. This search engine has a safety tab that lists the PPE requirements without having to search the label. The pesticide label can also be referenced.
  • USDA Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Database - Documents include common pests by crop, and a variety of pest management options.
  • NPIC’s Product Research Online - Search for federally-registered pesticides by crop, by pest/weed, and read labels online.