Skip to main content /US /US

Masks may not ensure safety in an attack

gas mask
Though sales of gas masks have increased greatly, simply having one is no guarantee of survival.  

From Elizabeth Cohen
CNN Medical Unit

STOCKBRIDGE, Georgia (CNN) -- When the masks arrive at the Army-Navy surplus store here these days, they're usually sold within the hour.

Since September, 200 to 300 people have called every day, desperate for any kind of mask.

"Even my mother called and said 'You did save one for me, right?' " store manager Russell Smith said.

Smith did save one for his mom, and one for himself. But he has doubts about whether they would help in a chemical or biological attack.

First of all, it can be hard to get it to fit right, and a mask that doesn't fit won't work properly. Second, you never know when an attack is going to happen.

"It would protect you, but you'd have to be wearing it. You can't go to work wearing a gas mask. It's not realistic," Smith said.

Third, different chemical and biological weapons require different filters, so a mask with the wrong filter won't help.

Furthermore, trying to put on a mask in a crisis can be dangerous.

"There certainly is a downside to the wearing of these masks," said Dr. Henry Siegelson of Disaster Planning International, who helps train the government to prepare for weapons of mass destruction. "In Israel during the Desert Storm War, eight people died because they wore their masks incorrectly."

They suffocated, which leads Siegelson to believe there's got to be a better alternative.

If you're worried about biological or chemical attacks, he said, consider sealing off doors and windows in a room in your house, as they do in Israel. Then, Siegelson said, you could seek refuge there, and wait until the gas cloud moves by.


See related sites about US
Note: Pages will open in a new browser window
External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.



Back to the top