Respiratory face masks

Bitrex helps ensure good fit for vital PPE

1st May 2020

As personal protective equipment (PPE) becomes more important than ever, a Johnson Matthey product is helping ensure face masks are protecting their wearers as much as possible.

Items like respiratory masks are crucial for those on the front lines, especially healthcare workers caring for those who are sick. But face masks only work effectively if there’s a good fit; if the seal is inadequate, contaminated air will take the path of least resistance and travel through leaks in the face seal. Bitrex®, a Johnson Matthey brand, has been used for many years as part of the test to make sure PPE is providing the best possible protection to keep people safe.
Fit testing is a means of checking that a respirator facepiece matches a person’s facial features and provides an effective seal around their face. The performance of tight-fitting respirators relies on achieving a good seal between the facepiece of the respirator and the wearer’s face, so testers need to find some way to make sure there are no gaps. That’s where Bitrex comes in.

Discovered accidentally by JM scientists in Scotland, Bitrex is the bitterest substance in the known universe and has been awarded a Guinness World record. A mere thimbleful of Bitrex can be tasted if added to an Olympic-sized swimming pool full of water. It’s most commonly used as an additive in potentially harmful household substances to protect children from the dangers of ingestion, making them quickly spit out the product due to the extremely bitter taste. Used in a fit test, if the test subject can taste the bitter solution being released into a hood and through the mask, then the performance of the mask is compromised and could be unsafe to use. It’s a simple solution that can leave a bitter taste in the mouth, but one that could potentially save lives.

Siobhan Hanlon, Bitrex Business Manager, said: “When a chemical compound was discovered completely by accident during work on anaesthetics almost 60 years ago, those scientists could never have guessed the wide range of uses the bitter substance discovered that day would have. It’s always been the mission of Bitrex to help protect people, so it's great to see it having a vital role in this application as well.”

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