Inhalation is nearly always the most serious possible exposure to biological, chemical, and nuclear agents. A common face mask – the N95 dust mask – will provide respiratory protection against some agents such as anthrax and radioactive fallout (dust). These masks are inexpensive and readily available at hardware stores. They are NOT EFFECTIVE against viruses and chemicals.
Escape hoods, gas masks and similar equipment for protection from chemicals and biological agents are difficult to use properly and have numerous limitations. Escape hoods are made of plastic and have a special filter. They must be put on in a clean environment and taken off promptly after the wearer has gone through a contaminated area.
Gas masks must be fitted to each individual and they must contain the proper filter in order to be effective. With the large number of potential chemical agents, it is impossible to know in advance which filter should be used. With some chemicals, gas masks would be totally ineffective. Do not assume that a gas mask is offering protection if it is possible to avoid the exposure altogether.
A large, clear plastic garbage bag (from your Emergency Evacuation Kit) can serve as an emergency escape hood for a short distance. The bag must be clear so that you can see through it. Pull the bag over your head and shoulders and all the way down over the torso, capturing as much good air as possible. Use one hand from the inside to cinch the bag tight around the waist. Use the other hand from within the bag to open and close doors, etc. Keep in mind that the bag will only hold enough oxygen for a few minutes, and physical exertion will sharply diminish that time. When removing the bag in a safe area, pull it inside-out from the inside. Remove contaminated lower clothing and seal it into the inside-out bag to capture all contaminants. Wash hands and any lower exposed areas immediately.
If you believe you have been contaminated with a destructive agent, leave the contamination area immediately. Cover your mouth and nose with any available material such as a dampened napkin, cloth or newspaper. If indoors, close doors or section off the contaminated area to prevent others from entering, if possible. Turn off fans or ventilation units.
Remove contaminated clothing and place in sealed plastic trash bags. Quickly rinse your eyes and exposed skin thoroughly with water. Shower if possible. Seek immediate emergency medical assistance.