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Affordable & Dangerous: Why You Should Avoid Surplus Gas Masks

I make my way through the bustling flea market, searching for the prize in mind: a cheap gas mask.

It’s hard to maneuver from booth to booth as several bodies bump into me and shout out prices. A lone buyer next to me raises his arms to grab several bags, almost hitting me in the face. And that’s when I turn to see it … a canvas bag with a scrawled out label, it says: “GAS MASK.”

I try to get a better look, but the seller beats me to it. He grins wide and gets awkwardly close as he brags about the GP-7 he’s willing to part with for only 20 bucks. He says it’s a bargain compared to the “fancy stuff” and it’s just as efficient.

Unfortunately, the seller is making a potentially harmful (deadly?) mistake.

And like so many great flea market finds, this is nowhere near as good a deal as it seems. The cheap price tag outshines the potential risks, like degraded rubber, a broken filter or huffing asbestos without realizing it.

(Image source: Courtesy of JustOneSuitcase)

As mentioned in our Definitive Gas Mask Buyer’s Guide, there are several types of surplus gas masks still on the market today that are best avoided. These masks are likely to be outdated, unreliable and unsafe.

Of course, it’s at your own discretion to buy these products, but in this article we discuss the origin of these surplus gas masks, why they’re such a concern, the reason they’ve become so popular and why the more modern alternatives are not only safer, but guaranteed to be safer.

So, before you click “buy” on that Israeli gas mask you saw on eBay, let’s look at your other options…

TABLE OF CONTENTS

  • 01

    Origin Story: The GP-5

  • 02

    The Dicey Design of the GP-5 and GP-7

  • 03

    Are the GP-5 and GP-7 a Health Hazard or a Safety Net?

  • 04

    Don’t Buy These Outdated Gas Masks

  • 05

    Gas Mask Nation: The Rise in Surplus

  • 06

    Out With the Old, in With the New

  • 07

    Conclusion

Origin Story: The GP-5

When COVID-19 hit the U.S., people fled to many alternative means of safety, and I mean VERY alternative means, as you can see below:

(Image source: Courtesy of TRT World)

But what about the folks who were using genuine gas masks, like this guy below in the GP-5 gas mask?

(Image source: Courtesy of TRT World)

Just like during the Cold War, people will do anything to feel safe. So whether you’re wearing a plastic bottle over your head or an old gas mask that stopped being produced in 1990 … you’re going to believe in it even if it’s completely ridiculous or unsafe.

The GP-5 Soviet gas mask isn’t the only offender on our list, but it’s one of the worst.

And we could go all the way back to plague doctors, but instead let’s refer back to Nikolay Zelinsky and the first gas mask made in 1915 that used activated charcoal to filter toxic contaminants. It didn’t become popular straight away. It started trending in World War II, when the gas mask evolved technologically and made its worldwide debut as the go-to for wartime assurances.

From 1962 to 1980, the GP-5 was distributed to almost every household as its production count was three times the population of the Soviet Union.

What mattered then was that it was (1) super cheap and (2) super simple to manufacture. All civilians were advised that these gas masks would last up to 24 hours. It was used as a way of preventing the inhalation of toxic and radioactive substances, including bacterial agents.

As stated, the GP-5 would cease production in 1990, and so if you find one today, it’s likely it will NOT be as effective against nuclear disaster or a respiratory hazard. After the GP-5m (the upgrade which came after the GP-5), the Soviet Union then began production on the GP-7 gas mask which was distributed in 1988.

The Dicey Design of the GP-5 and GP-7

As mentioned, the GP-5 was specifically designed to counter a possible nuclear war with the U.S. Since most Soviet Union civilians were expected to have a GP-5 gas mask (including the children but with a longer hose), they were cheaper than most, simple to produce and easy to obtain. To this day, if you really wanted a GP-5, you could potentially go to the site of the Chernobyl disaster and you’d likely find several in the debris, scattered amidst the disaster zones.

The GP-5 is a helmet-type gas mask with white/black rubber that stretches over the head. The latex rubber adheres to the skin and creates a seal, preventing contaminants from inhalation. As effective as that may seem, it’s very uncomfortable for the wearer. And adding insult to injury, the lenses that are crimped into the rubber are small and easily fog up. It makes sense that if this was sold cheaply on the market, it wouldn’t have an anti-fogging mechanism (which in modern masks, such as the MIRA Safety CM-6M, is a given to include). The GP-5 taught modern gas mask creators what should be added by default to today’s products that MIRA Safety sells.

Lastly, we have the air that passes through the inhale valve which is then passed into the mask through Tissot tubes which are located beneath the lenses. The bottom is made of metal and inside is a 40mm filter inlet. The case for that filter is made of lead and everything issued with the mask is placed inside a khaki fabric bag with two straps (one around the waist and another over the shoulder). The bag has two pockets that would contain bandages and a decontamination kit.

The upgraded version, the GP-7, came in as a civilian-issued version of the PMK-1 and was preceded by the GP-5m. It had a rounded lens and 40mm filter similar to the GP-5. And the biggest difference was the added drinking tube which wrapped around the voice diaphragm and attached to an exhale valve. The gas mask also included a rubber five-point harness, and a rubber flap around the inside that would help create a better seal. The set comes in a cloth bag with the mask, a filter canister, a plastic or metal canteen, ballistic outsert lenses and anti-fog stickers.

Are the GP-5 and GP-7 a Health Hazard or Safety Net?

The GP-5, GP-7 or any surplus gas mask is great as a collector’s item, but as a reliable means of protection … they are found to be incredibly lacking. Any gas masks in surplus today will not be as effective as one designed with modern day technology. Here are six reasons why specifically the GP-5 and GP-7 should be avoided:

  1. It’s expired. The mask has lost its use and even though a seller may say it’s unused it still has the potential to break because of fragility/age. The material has a high chance of being degraded, making it a liability.

  2. Don’t trust the original 40mm filter. According to a confirmed lab report from the Netherlands, the GP-5 and GP-7 filters contain 7.5% white asbestos. The rest is activated charcoal, which is only a hazard if the filter is already broken or degrading.

  3. The filter case is made of lead. If you’re holding a GP-5, then you know production stopped in 1990. This means the filter not only has asbestos but it’s been sitting in lead for YEARS. There’s a very high chance that lead is now degraded into the filter.

  4. Replacement filters are a nonstandard size. This makes filters very annoying to find on the market, if it wasn’t already hard to identify as is.

  5. The lenses are small. This not only creates vision restrictions, but there’s also no anti-fog technology like most of the modern masks today (and they’re hypoallergenic, like the MIRA Safety CM-7M gas mask).

  6. It’s very uncomfortable and sweat-inducing. The reason for this is because it’s a helmet-type gas mask. Unlike the surplus masks, modern day masks at MIRA Safety all have adjustable/elastic straps.

And it isn’t just the GP-5 and GP-7…

(Image source: Courtesy of ynetnews.com)

To be in “surplus'' means there’s a lot of the product. In this case, the GP-5 and GP-7 were mass-produced for easy access, so there are several around (even today) that are being sold for ridiculously low prices and some will claim that the concerns we’ve mentioned above are invalid.

But they DO matter.

Would you drink expired milk because it’s only a dollar? This is the same idea.

You’re purchasing a defective gas mask for cheap, and if it’s ever used against toxic contaminants, well, it could mean life or death.

That’s why we at MIRA Safety are so concerned about the type of gas mask you decide to invest in. We only provide gas masks and respirators that are on par with your needs and comforts. These can only benefit you, rather than potentially endanger you.

Now let’s look at other surplus masks we recommend you steer clear of. They aren’t as trendy as the GP-5 and GP-7, but they’re still worth knowing.

Don’t Buy These Outdated Gas Masks

Now that you understand why these surplus gas masks are such a problem , let’s go over which specific ones are out there.

The debate today is that these cheap, outdated gas masks only need a new filter to be considered “safe,” but as you saw in the last section, there’s a LOT more to consider. For example, what if the filter is difficult to replace because it’s no longer being produced? Or what if you’re unable to tell if it’s in good shape or not?

If you purchase a modern gas mask, you won’t need to ask yourself if something is safe or effective to use. Today’s gas masks and respirators are way ahead in technology than its predecessors. There are masks today that can prepare you for chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear (CBRN) threats, while others may be specific to the one concern, such as the pandemic or an area that gets forest fires often. Again, you can look at our guide HERE to find the specific guidelines for the type of gas mask you’re looking for.

Here are a few gas masks we recommend you avoid…

Israeli Gas Masks (Model 4A1 and M15)

(Image source: Courtesy of Saluc Militaria)

Mass-produced in Israel, the model 4A1 mask was designed to protect the wearer against chemical bombs. It would allow civilians a better and safer way to cross contaminated areas. It is said to provide nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) protection. The mask has a drinking attachment, it’s one-size-fits-all, the goggles are scratch-resistant and it uses any standard NATO 40mm filter canister.

It’s crazy, but 4 million of these were produced and issued to Israeli civilians since the Gulf War. They’re easy to find online or in surplus stores, heck maybe even at your local Steampunk fair, but don’t trust it. These masks came over to the U.S. and ended up outdated or inefficient. And again, similar to the GP-5 and GP-7, they have very poor visibility because of the small circular lenses. It’s shocking, but even today these gas masks are being used by the general populace of Israel for emergencies.

(Image source: Courtesy of Midway USA)

Similar to the 4A1 model, the M15 was designed for the Israeli military. It has all the same features except the eye sockets are bigger, and it’s a bit wider (for better comfort). But as we mentioned earlier, just like the civilian model, it’s only sold in the U.S. as surplus, thus it’s outdated and unfortunately, unusable.

Chinese Gas Masks

(Image source: Courtesy of Sportsman’s Guide)

The label “Made in China” has quite the reputation on surplus products. They’re assumed to be low in cost and quality. In this case, gas masks made in China sold from sites such as Alibaba, eBay, Amazon or AliExpress … tend to fit the bill. Most of the instructions with these masks are kept in Chinese or broken English. Again, similar to other surplus masks, replacement filters are very hard to come by.

Serbian M-1 Gas Mask

(Image source: Courtesy of Sportsman’s Guide)

The Serbian M-1 was originally created for the troops during the Yugoslav wars. In later years, it would be employed by the Iraqi Army during the Gulf War (the M-1 was known also during this time as the M-59). There are variations to this gas mask, such as the MC-1 which is almost identical to the M-1 but specific to civilian use and has an oral nasal cup. It was produced in the late 1960s and lasted till 1995. The respirator was only available until 2005 and the filter does not have asbestos, but it does contain chromium (still a hazard to breathe in). Also, similar to the most other surplus gas masks, the filter is hard to identify and thus hard to replace.

M17 Gas Mask

The M17 lasted until the 1990s and was issued for troops in the Vietnam War. It had a good number of advantages with its more streamlined design and less probability to snag onto something. The lenses used anti-fog mechanisms, it had a voice emitter (for radio use) and an attached drinking tube. Those were some advantages, but also a rather BIG disadvantage was the design of the internal cheek filters which would need to be removed for the wearer to change them out.

Also, the M17 may save you from chemical/biological warfare agents, but it doesn’t function well when oxygen is low. It’s not meant for combating fires or radiation. If you have the M17, which is rare to find in the United States, it is still considered a surplus gas mask because of when it stopped production and the years of expiration.

Czeck M-10-M Protective Mask

Originally inspired by the U.S.’s M17 mask (as mentioned above), the M-10 was intended as its clone. However, this was not the case since there were many clear differences ranging from the exhalation system using metal housing to the larger, threaded filter openings. Then, 10 years after the M-10 was produced, the Czeck M-10-M came out. It was considered an upgrade with changes to the head harness, voice diaphragm, and exhalation system. One worthy notable difference between this mask and others was the rebreather unit called the ZP-10. It was used specifically for escape purposes ranging from 10 meters or above.

(Image source: Courtesy of HKParts.com)

The big concern of this mask and the “cloned” M17 is that the filter is internal, meaning it must be taken off to change the filter. This difficulty has the potential to be very risky depending on the severity of the emergency, but regardless you’re fully exposing yourself to contaminants when changing the filter. Another concern if you’re using this mask is that it does NOT cover CBRN protection.

Canadian Protective Masks (Models C-3 and C-4)

The C-3 model was made from 1960 to 1982. It was a direct predecessor to the Canadian C-4 model and has been off the market for over 30 years. Yet, the strange part is that they’re still being sold today through military surplus sites and eBay. It’s no wonder individuals who do buy this model have such a difficult experience because the 60-mm filters are very rare to find in perfect or new condition.

Then came the C-4 model…

(Image source: Courtesy of Army Issue Surplus)

Production for this updated model began in the early 1980s and served as an essential part of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF). Today it is still being utilized by the CAF, but is slowly being replaced by the model C-5. The reason this is on our avoid list is because the original black masks have adhesive issues. Also, the mask comes with two separate eyepieces rather than a single faceplate, so the field of vision is more obstructed. If you do prefer this style of gas mask, we recommend you find the green or tan versions. Notable mentions for this mask that we thought worked well was that the filter can be mounted on the right or left, which could be quite the tactical advantage.

Gas Mask Nation: The Rise in Surplus

(Image source: Courtesy of Duke Trinity College of Arts and Sciences)

Photographer, Horino Masao, took the above photo titled “Gas Mask Parade” in 1931 during the invasion of Manchuria. It’s set in Tokyo and portrays an army of schoolgirls marching together, all donning gas masks. It’s iconic mainly for its representation of civic preparedness in wartime Japan, but it’s also famous for how it evokes unsettling emotions.

The gas mask, even during this time, was growing in popularity as a product of security and safety, but also visually as something quite frightening and dystopian in relation to war and nuclear devastation. This has shown useful in varying forms of popular media such as movies, fashion/art, video games, ect.

In the YouTube video below, Weaponsandstuff93 gives an overview of the gas masks and respirators that were shown in video game titles: Metro 2033 and Metro 2033 Redux. Some are fictitious (creating a hybrid of two masks), while others were taken exactly from our surplus list.

Another famous individual in video games is “The Pyro” from Team Fortress 2. His gas mask is well-known to fans, and looks similar to the Soviet Union GP-5, but also like the British S-10. Those who try to cosplay or dress up as this character will either create their own version or purchase something similar which may lead to buying one or both of those aforementioned masks.

Lastly, we have the Japanese animated TV series called Tokyo Ghoul that uses the older surplus-style gas masks to represent fear and horror. In the series, a gang called the “Gas Masks,” are a violent group of three “ghouls” that wear hoodies along with varying masks. These characters don’t utilize the gas masks to survive or fight off contaminants but rather they treat it as a fashion choice, which for today’s standards can be quite common.

Overall, gas masks have grown quickly in popularity and it’s understandable that if you’re not looking to use the mask for its primary function that someone would aim to get something cheap, unused and yet aesthetically compelling. However, it’s crucial that the gas mask you have your eye on doesn’t cost you your health. It’s possible you could be breathing in asbestos, chromium or activated charcoal without realizing it. And if you do intend to use a gas mask for survival, then, you’ll want to take a look at what MIRA Safety’s modern gas masks have to offer in comparison.

Out With the Old, in With the New

With these examples in mind, it’s evident that the gas mask, surplus or not, has influenced modern media tremendously.

From video games to movies, gas masks are “en vogue” when trying to portray a dystopian or war-like environment. It’s worth noting that the gas mask is often seen as a symbol of oppression, but it could not be farther from the truth. The modern gas mask is engineered to save lives without risking harm to the wearer, and we’ll take a moment to reference some of the top picks from our Definitive Gas Mask Buyer’s Guide.

MIRA Safety CM-6M Gas Mask

The MIRA Safety CM-6M gas mask protects the wearer’s airways, eyes and face from toxic chemicals, gasses, vapors and radioactive dust. The oral-nasal cup is hypoallergenic, and the visor is wide for panoramic viewing.

(Image source: Courtesy of Italian Prepper)

Without a doubt, the CM-6M gas mask is a fan favorite. This is a modern tactical respirator that is still in professional use today by multiple NATO agencies and military units such as the Czech Republic Armed Forces.

The impact-rated visor combined with blistering agent resistant bromobutyl rubber offers the best possible protection to the user. Whether tackling life-threatening situations or simply protecting one’s eyes from stray airsoft BBs, it’s hard to top this beauty.

CM-3M Children’s Gas Mask

Developed by CBRN experts at the Israeli Defense Force, the CM-3M Children’s Gas Mask combines a hooded design with an integrated PAPR to create a positive pressure mask that’s practical and comfortable for small children.

This state-of-the-art gas mask, accompanied with a transparent hooded design, allows children to stay safe while expressing themselves. Not all gas masks have to be intimidating, and this one proves that flawlessly.

So although surplus gas masks may be the right price, and they might have the right look… they also might harm you, which is the exact opposite of their intention. You get what you pay for in the modern day gas mask, and the same can be said for surplus masks. Cheap, but deadly. There will always be proponents for surplus masks who believe themselves to be ahead of the curve, but at the end of the day, it’s not their lives you’re risking.

Conclusion

I would’ve been hard pressed to refute the vendor on his expertise half a century ago, but today people possess tools of reason that we did not have back then. Within a moment, I search for the mask in question, and am fortunate enough to come across an article that details the dangers of surplus masks. Perchance this article gives you the same reassurance as that buyer, we here at MIRA Safety are proud to be a part of your welfare.