Researchers create new monitoring device

November 14, 2002

PITTSBURGH-- Researchers at Carnegie Mellon's microelectrical mechanical (MEMS) lab have received an initial $190,000 grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to create monitors that will reduce the cost of keeping respirator masks in top shape.

Under the NIOSH funding, Carnegie Mellon researchers will develop new technology to alert users when respirator filters are nearing the end of their effective life.

Gary Fedder, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, said his team is charged with determining the shelf life of cartridges used in gas masks. The masks are used by a variety of rescue and emergency service organizations, including fire departments and paramedics.

The improvements would help users identify filters that are nearing the end of their service life and may no longer provide adequate protection against hazardous gases, fumes and vapors. They would also help users avoid discarding filters that are still effective, under the misperception that the filters no longer functioned effectively.

"Although there has been a longstanding need for determining how best to monitor the lifespan of these cartridges, the need became even more prominent with the World Trade Center rescue and recovery effort, when respirators served as a critical purpose for worker safety and health,'' said Richard Metzler, director of NIOSH's National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory.

At Carnegie Mellon's MEMS lab, which combines sensors, mechanisms and digital smarts on a single sliver of silicon, researchers are trying to make efficient and economical mask monitors. A monitor would set off an alarm if a filter cartridge was nearing the end of its service life. Before critical exposure, an alarm would signal the user to replace the mask cartridge, according to Fedder.

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