N95 Mask Shortage for Pesticide Applicators

Ernie NeffCOVID-19, Pesticides

According to Laurie Hurner, Highlands County Extension director and citrus Extension agent, some Florida growers have reported a shortage of N95 respirator masks.

Hurner said many growers use those masks for pesticide application. Such masks have reportedly been in short supply for medical personnel nationwide during the COVID-19 pandemic. “With the COVID-19 virus, it is getting more and more difficult to obtain proper PPE (personal protective equipment),” she said.  

Hurner contacted Jay Farrell, director of the University of Florida Pesticide Information Office, who provided information that may be useful for growers during the mask shortage.

“Given the high demand on face masks, particularly the N95 surgical style masks that many utilize as a respirator for pesticide applications, I am sure many are finding their typical respirators on back order or out,” Farrell stated. “It will likely be some time before the style is available again. Many may seek to use alternate respirators that are still covered under the label. One can always choose PPE that is more protective than required, so long as the label doesn’t prohibit that.”

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“If applicators change to a different style of respirator, like a half face canister, they would need to do another medical evaluation and get fit tested for that new style,” Farrell added. “3M has a good online portal that would allow applicators to get the evaluation done remotely (Click here for the evaluation). I am not sure of the cost, but given the cost of being out of compliance, I would think it minimal in comparison.”

Hurner also shared information from the Office of Private Sector of the Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), about fraudulent masks that have been sold. According to that information, fraudulent sales of PPE have been increasing since December 2019. The FBI reportedly has received at least 45 consumer complaints of fraud and counterfeiting involving 3M PPE, accounting for more than $642,000 in losses.

A report from the Department of Justice indicates how to spot counterfeit N95 respirators. View the report.

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Ernie Neff

Ernie Neff

Senior Correspondent at Large