Gas Masks for Automotive Painting

By Scott Cypher, SCypher@perform.vt.edu

From working with Hazardous Chemicals (Alcohols, to Freons, to Carcinogens, to Nerve Gas), I agree with the recommendatons that are given by paint sales representatives as to the extreme dangers involved with automotive painting.

  1. Full Face vs. 1/2 mask. Gaseous vapors enter the body through many routes. Your eyes are particulary vulnerable. There is a great opportunity to scar your eyes from repeated exposure to volatile chemicals, that make your eyes “numb” to paint fumes. (If you wear contacts, you could “melt” the contacts while they are in your eyes) I know a great many car painters that never protected their eyes, and now poo-poo full face respirators because they “don’t feel it” anymore.
  2. Charcoal canisters absorb many vapors, expecially H20. Leaving respirators in unsealed containers (i.e. not a Zip Loc baggie) does prematurely wear out a set of chemical filters. Yes, the true test is inhaling above a KNOWN smelly source, and seeing is believing if you smell it. Do NOT use a mask that passes chemical odors.
  3. However, smelling it is not necessarily an indicator of bad filters. It could be a poorly fit, or badly sealed mask, hence the need to keep your mask clean and in good repair. There are methods to check mask integrity, and sealability (which I won’t go into now, emailme if you want details) when you fit up. I recommend to anyone using a chemical mask, get the proper training on usage, from someone familiar with working with truly hazardous/deadly chemicals. It is far too easy to ignore this potential that exists to “save time” or convenience. You might avoid acute exposure, but since many of these chemicals and/or carcinogens are less than 30 years old, chronic (long term) effects of repeated exposures are not documented nor studied.

Please, as someone who worked with FOOLS and was a fool for six years, don’t paint without a respirator, and don’t use a respirator without training from a certified expert. You might not truly know, but are you willing to risk your life? You might have already. Think about it, like the GIs affected by Agent orange tests, or the atomic bomb. They were OK for quite awhile, but then things got worse. Do you want that to happen to you? If nothing else, don’t trivialize the impact chemicals can have. If you don’t have the data to support one view over the other, don’t advocate one over other. I would err to the side of caution, rather than err at all.