NIOSH announces Counterfeit N95 Challenge winners

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) , in collaboration with NASA Tournament Lab and HeroX, is pleased to announce the winners of the NIOSH Counterfeit N95 Challenge. The goals of the challenge are to develop innovative approaches that could reduce the number of counterfeit N95® respirators in the marketplace and to improve the confidence of end users who will purchase these products. The challenge winners, Essayon Engineering, have developed a filtering facepiece respirator (FFR) phone app and website to help people check the authenticity of a respirator.

“Because counterfeit products are not genuine NIOSH Approved® respirators, there is no way in knowing if they meet NIOSH’s strict testing requirements and this means they may not provide the appropriate level of respiratory protection,” said Maryann D’Alessandro, director of the National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory, the NIOSH division responsible for testing and approving respirators. “The innovative solutions developed through this challenge could improve everyone’s ability to spot fake respirators and avoid them.”

Essayon Engineering will receive the $35,000 prize pool for Phase 2 of the NIOSH Counterfeit N95 Challenge for the N95 FFR Validation App and Website. This winning solution demonstrated how a validation database with a private label lookup function and one-way communication with NIOSH’s Certified Equipment List (CEL) could improve confidence that respirators are authentic. The app also includes a prototype “visual” validation tool where app users can see pictures obtained directly from the manufacturers’ websites and compare them against the respirator they are assessing.

Additionally, three teams have received an honorable mention. While these teams will not receive a monetary prize for Phase 2, they will be invited to upcoming NIOSH partner activities to promote and share their innovative solutions. In no particular order the honorable mentions are:

  • Digital Title by Team Digital Title. This solution is a decentralized, distributed title recording system that demonstrates respirator proof of ownership to end users. End users can check if their respirator is authentic by entering a QR code incorporated into product packaging.
  • Verisku by Leigh Brand’s Team. Through intelligent event monitoring, this cloud-based platform initiates media outreach to communities affected by a respiratory health threat to provide information on how to authenticate NIOSH Approved respirators.
  • Ethos-Authentication Standards for NIOSH Registry by Team Aegle – Provenio. This registry allows manufacturers to upload and share provenance data across the supply chain to ensure a respirator’s compliance and authenticity.

“NIOSH congratulates all challenge winners for their excellent submissions,” noted D’Alessandro. “Each of these solutions could potentially help vendors or users become better informed and confident that the respirator they purchase will provide the protection needed to keep the wearer safe and healthy.”

The NIOSH Counterfeit N95 Challenge is a two-phase challenge with a total prize purse of $145,000. Four Phase 1 winning teams advanced to Phase 2, where they had seven months to demonstrate their ‘proof of concept’ approaches to help combat counterfeit N95 FFRs.

Learn more about the winners of the NIOSH Counterfeit N95 Challenge. Join HeroX, NIOSH, and the selected winners for a  webinar on December 7, 2023 at 12:30 p.m. PST where they will discuss their solutions and participation experience.

NIOSH urges all buyers to inspect a respirator or its packaging for the required labeling prior to purchase. You can view information on the Buyer Beware section of NIOSH’s Respirator Trusted-Source Information webpage to identify what to look for to determine if a model is NIOSH approved, and to find information for products that have been identified as counterfeit or being misrepresented as NIOSH approved.

NIOSH is the federal institute that conducts research and makes recommendations for preventing work-related injuries, illnesses, and deaths. Find more information about NIOSH at

N95 and NIOSH Approved are certification marks of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) registered in the United States and several international jurisdictions.

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