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What is a PAPR?

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  • Written By: Kim Masters Evans
  • Edited By: Angela B.
  • Last Modified Date: 10 September 2016
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A powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR) is a battery-operated respirator that purifies incoming air before a person breathes it. A fan blows the air across filters contained in cartridges. The cleaned air then flows into a mask, hood, or facepiece covering the person’s nose and mouth. PAPRs are used in industrial and commercial environments and by emergency responders and healthcare workers. Although the word "respirator" is already part of the acronym PAPR, the device is often referred to as a PAPR respirator.

A typical PAPR includes a battery pack, a motorized fan, filters encased in round cartridges, and a face mask or hood. The battery pack powers the fan. It blows incoming air across the filter cartridges to remove contaminants. The purified air then enters the user's breathing zone via a mask, hood, or facepiece.

The components of a PAPR can be configured in different ways. The battery pack, fan, and filter cartridges may be combined in one unit that can be worn on a belt around the waist or as a backpack. A breathing tube feeds the purified air to a face mask. This configuration is commonly used by emergency responders.

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In some configurations, the battery pack is a separate unit that can be worn on a belt. In this case, the blower and filter cartridges are incorporated into a facepiece or hood. A full facepiece covers the entire face. A half facepiece covers the nose and mouth, but not the eyes. Facepieces must seal tightly to the skin to prevent contaminated air from seeping in.

The purpose of an air-purifying respirator is to protect the wearer from inhaling harmful substances in the air. Different types of respirators accomplish this in different ways. An air-supplied respirator — also known as a supplied air respirator — pumps in uncontaminated air from outside the dangerous environment or from canisters of air carried by the respirator wearer. A PAPR cleans contaminated air by filtering it. The filter cartridges are custom-designed for specific air contaminants.

One common PAPR filter captures and holds solid particles. This includes large particles, such as dust, and microscopic particles called particulates. Airborne particulates are especially dangerous, because they can be breathed deeply into the lungs. Smoke from anything that burns contains particulates and may contain larger particles, such as ash.

Filters that remove bacteria and viruses are used in the healthcare field. Commercial and industrial occupations may include exposure to dust, fibers, mold, spray paint, and various types of chemical vapors. Emergency responders typically use filters designed to remove smoke or specific chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear contaminants.

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