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NIOSH to Approve Self-Contained Respirators for Emergency Workers in Terrorist Attacks

NIOSH Update:

Contact: Fred Blosser (202) 401-3749
January 14, 2002

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is beginning a new program to approve self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) for use by firefighters and other first responders after terrorist attacks. A self-contained breathing apparatus is a type of respirator commonly used by firefighters that provides air to users from a pressurized supply cylinder or tank carried on the back.

NIOSH approval under the program will signify that an SCBA is expected to provide needed protection to first responders in situations where an act of terror has released harmful chemicals, pathogens, or radioactive materials into the air. Approvals will be based on positive results from rigorous tests on sample units submitted to NIOSH by manufacturers, and from stringent evaluation of manufacturers’ quality-control practices, technical specifications, and other documentation. These positive results will demonstrate that the device provides the required level of protection against chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) agents.

Products that meet the NIOSH requirements will be included on a list of special SCBAs approved by NIOSH for use by first responders in chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear emergencies. In addition, the products’ manufacturers will be authorized to label them as “CBRN Agent Approved” by NIOSH.

The new program builds on NIOSH’s long-established program for approving respirators in traditional workplace settings such as mines, industrial plants, construction sites, and health care facilities, in situations where potential hazards generally have been identified and respirators typically are used as part of a larger occupational safety and health program. The new program incorporates performance criteria for SCBAs from the traditional program, and augments them with additional criteria pertinent to situations in which chemical, biological, and other agents may be used as weapons of terror and hazards may be difficult to predict. For example, SCBAs also must meet NFPA standards for heat- and flame-resistance, and must be resistant to chemicals that may be used as weapons, as determined by laboratory tests involving the chemical warfare agents sarin and mustard gas.

NIOSH contacted manufacturers by letter on December 28, 2001, to notify them of the new program, and will begin to accept applications for certification on January 22, 2002. SCBAs that have been approved under the existing program for use in traditional work settings will not need to be re-submitted for approval under the new program, if they are not intended for use by first responders against CBRN agents.

Development of the new program involved broad national support and collaboration by many agencies, organizations, and stakeholders, including the National Institute of Justice, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the U.S. Army Soldier and Biological Chemical Command, the National Fire Protection Association, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Oklahoma City National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism, the U.S. Departments of Defense and Justice’s Interagency Board for Equipment Standardization and Interoperability, the International Association of Fire Fighters, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, and the International Safety Equipment Association.

Because knowledge of biological and chemical agents is evolving as research continues, NIOSH is accepting comments and suggestions on the new program. Applications, comments, and questions may be sent by email to or by mail to Attn: Records Room, Respirator Branch, NIOSH, National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory, P.O. Box 18070, 626 Cochrans Mill Road, Pittsburgh, PA, 15236. Further information about the program will be posted shortly on the NIOSH web page . NIOSH also is in the early stages of developing similar CBRN certification requirements for other types of respirators, such as air-purifying devices, for use by first responders.