Information On Gas Masks

A gas mask can be a necessity.

Concerns about attacks on cities, bioterrorism and swine flu brought gas masks to the forefront in the United States in the early days of the 21st century. Many U.S. residents began to think gas masks were needed, but this raised concern because, according to Nova Online, incorrect use of a gas mask can lead to suffocation.


A gas mask, also known as a respirator, is a fitted device that fits over your face. The mask is designed to protect the wearer from harmful airborne substances, including viruses, poisons, bacteria and toxic chemicals. A filter on the mask strips the air of contaminants as they pass through the filter.


In the 1850s, Scottish chemist John Stenhouse created a mask capable of removing toxic gases from the air. Stenhouse’s mask used a powdered charcoal filter to clean the air. Workers in London chemical factories wore the Stenhouse mask. According to Wabash College, James Bert Garner invented the gas mask in 1915. Garner was a U.S. chemist concerned about chemical attacks in World War I. Garner had done an experiment that showed wood charcoal could absorb toxic chemicals. After sharing his information with the British, the technology helped create masks for British soldiers during World War I. When U.S. soldiers entered the war, they wore the Garner mask as well. Stenhouse and Garner are only two of many people credited with creating the gas mask.


According to, the least effective type of gas mask is a half-mask air-purifying respirator. The half-mask covers the mouth and nose, but leaves the eyes vulnerable. The full-face, air-purifying respirator protects the entire face. Its weakness is it allows leaks if the mask is cracked or badly fitted. The self-contained breathing apparatus includes an air tank filled with purified air. The tank attaches to the mask and feeds clean air to the wearer.

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Gas masks are available from Army surplus stores, medical equipment suppliers and online retailers. According to the Washington state Department of Health, gas masks purchased at Army surplus stores or on the Internet aren’t guaranteed to work. Reliable gas masks are normally custom-made for soldiers and people who work closely with hazardous chemicals.


The Washington Department of Health advises civilians not to purchase gas masks. Chemical warfare attacks are unexpected so no one could know ahead of time to wear the mask. Civilians also aren’t trained to properly use a gas mask. A gas mask purchased by a civilian is also likely to fit incorrectly.