Air Clean Up

  • Do Pollution Masks Work?

Do Pollution Masks Work?

Jan 23 2018 Read 1468 Times

Air quality is worsening across the world, particularly in built up urban areas. The solution? Some opt for pollution masks to protect themselves from the airborne pollutants. Indeed, pollution masks have become commonplace in some Asian countries. But do they actually work? Read on as we look at their efficiency and whether there’s an alternative.

What is a pollution mask?

Also known as face masks, pollution masks are worn over the mouth and nose like masks worn by surgeons. In fact, some pollution masks are identical to surgeons’ masks, made from paper, while others are made from cloth. It doesn’t take an expert to work out why they’re positioned as such either. Pollution masks are supposed to stop pollutants making their way into people’s airstream, through the mouth or nose.

A growing problem

It’s completely understandable that people want to protect themselves. Air pollution is a huge problem, that’s been proven to impact upon people’s health. The World Health Organisation reports that around 7 million premature deaths are linked to air pollution each year. As well as a range of respiratory diseases, it’s been found to increase the risk of stroke, heart disease and even cancer.

The problem is particularly prominent in built up cities and heavily industrialised areas. Why? Emissions from plants and factories contribute significantly to worsening air quality, with traffic in cities also emitting a number of harmful pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and particulate matter. That’s why it’s not unusual to see people wearing face masks in Beijing, Delhi and increasingly in London.

Do they work?

Studies have shown that some face masks do work to protect users from pollution. However, these were well designed masks with pollution filters built in. Researchers also ensured the masks had a good “facial fit”. This is where other face masks fall down.

In order to work, face masks need to fit properly on the face and have to be designed to filter out pollutants. Essentially, inexpensive paper and cloth masks – which most people use as an everyday solution – do very little to filter out pollution.

The real solution

There’s no quick fix to tackle pollution. Governments and businesses need to work together to reduce the levels of different pollutants that are being emitted into the environment. The article ‘Big Market for Chemicals to Capture Mercury’ discusses one such example, with chemicals now being developed to treat discharges from power plants.

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