Many studies have already proven the harmful effects of breathing in air pollution for long periods of time especially since it was estimated that around 3.4 million premature deaths were linked to exposure to outdoor air pollution. One of the ways that can help relieve the negative impacts is wearing a mask when outdoors. But how does it work and would it work for all types of air pollutants?
As air pollution is made up of a mixture of harmful particles and gases one mask may not be suitable to protect against all the pollutants. While ozone, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxides and carbon monoxide are all harmful in their own right, research has shown that inhaling fine particulate matter (those that have a diameter less than 2.5μ) should be what we are most worried about in relation to our health.
When buying masks, look out for the mask protection factor assigned that will inform you of the percentage of pollutant that the mask will not remove, for example if it has a factor of 15 then 15% of air pollutants will not be removed. Many inexpensive masks such as HEPA filter masks or N95 masks will be able to help filter out most air pollutants and prevent them from travelling into your respiratory tract and causing inflammation to the lungs, irritating your nose and throat or causing the onset of respiratory diseases.
Wearing masks nowadays is a given due to the pandemic, but have you ever wondered if wearing surgical masks will give the same exact protection as wearing a particulate mask and respirators? The answer is no, this is because surgical masks have a much looser fit compared to respirators as its purpose is to prevent water droplets from escaping. Surgical masks are ideal in settings where airborne pathogens are involved. However if you are desperate and do not have a respirator on hand, a surgical mask can still be worn but must go under the chin, cover the nose and should be well fitted so that light weight fine particles can attempt to be filtered.
Make sure to stay safe and wear a mask when necessary to protect yourself and others especially if you are particularly vulnerable!
Ritchie, H., & Roser, M. (2019, November 12). Outdoor Air Pollution. Our World in Data. Retrieved October 10, 2021, from https://ourworldindata.org/outdoor-air-pollution.
Vedal , S. (2021, September 23). Can facemasks help reduce the negative health impacts of air pollution? The Conversation. Retrieved October 10, 2021, from https://theconversation.com/can-facemasks-help-reduce-the-negative-health-impacts-of-air-pollution-82549.
Jacobs, J. in. (2020, November 30). N95 vs. Surgical Masks: What to wear when air pollution is bad. Pacific Prime Thailand’s Blog. Retrieved October 10, 2021, from https://www.pacificprime.co.th/blog/n95-vs-surgical-masks-what-to-wear-when-air-pollution-is-bad/.