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Are N95 smoke masks safe? One California county recommends against use

Fire stations in the Sacramento area are ending free distribution of N95 respirator masks in the Sacramento region after the county raised safety concerns, though smoke from the Camp Fire continues to create unhealthy air conditions across the area.
The city of Sacramento released a statement Thursday afternoon saying the mask program is “nearing its conclusion” because the city has been unable to obtain additional masks from the California Office of Emergency Services or California Department of Public Health.
While a news release by Cal OES on Sunday promoted the use of N95 masks to help “breathe easy” in light of wildfire smoke blanketing Northern California, Sacramento County this week published multiple warnings discouraging the use and distribution of such masks.
The city says in its statement the first 7,000 N95 masks came from the county, with thousands more coming from Cal OES, but subsequent requests for masks routed through the county have not been filled. Based on its recommendations and warnings, Sacramento County seems unlikely to fulfill those requests.
The city handed out approximately 67,000 masks to residents who had asked for them, according to the news release.
Sacramento County issued a statement Tuesday warning that the risks introduced by wearing N95 masks can potentially outweigh their benefits.
The county Department of Health advised against the use of N95 respirators, warning residents that they can lead to breathing difficulties and elevated heart rate, especially for people with respiratory or cardiac conditions.
“The use of the N95 Respirator Mask is only recommended for those near the fire who do not have the option to be indoors or have access to filtered/recirculated air,” Tuesday’s news release by the county said.
The city of Sacramento will continue to distribute masks from Sacramento Fire Department stations to those who ask for them until its supply runs out.
As of Wednesday night, Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District is no longer distributing masks to residents, the district announced Thursday.
Spokesman Brian Gonsalves said Metro Fire was directed Wednesday by the county to stop giving out the masks. Gonsalves said the county never approved or recommended Metro Fire start doing it in the first place.
“It was just something that the fire district thought might be helpful,” Gonsalves said.

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