Is the air pollution in China dangerous?
According to a recent report, air pollution is a contributing factor in the deaths of approximately 1.6 million Chinese people each year. This is the equivalent of 4,400 each day. Around the world, the toxic air in Chinese cities has been recognized as a major problem, but the Berkeley Earth paper highlights the dangers of the smog shrouding Beijing and other cities. The research data shows that 3/8th of Chinese residents are breathing air that would be considered “unhealthy” in the western world. With 90% of the 366 Chinese Cities researched failing air quality standards in 2015. The most dangerous pollutants include airborne particles which have a diameter of less than 2.5 microns and can cause a range of health issues if they are absorbed into the bloodstream through the lungs including increased risk of lung cancer, heart attacks, and asthma. Although blue skies are occasionally visible above the Chinese capital, many residents seek to wear an air pollution mask to reduce their risk of developing health problems. However, not all masks offer the same protection.
Who Should Wear an Air Pollution Mask?
When the air quality index is ranked below 100, unless you are particularly sensitive to air pollution, there is very little need for a mask. If you suffer from respiratory conditions or are very active, you may need to limit prolonged periods of outdoor exertion. However, the more severe problems occur when the air quality index reaches above 150. At this level, the air is classified as unhealthy, and everyone may begin to suffer from adverse health effects. At the 300 to 500 Air quality index figures often seen in China, the entire population may experience moderate to severe health effects. This means that if you do need to be outdoors, you should be wearing some form of air pollution mask to protect your health.
Choosing a Mask
Your chosen mask should be airtight and form a tight seal around your face. However, some experts warn that wearing surgical style or basic cotton masks can be more detrimental than wearing nothing at all. These types of mask are rarely effective against significant air pollution levels, yet they can create a false sense of security, leading more people to increase their exposure as they linger outdoors. While President Xi Jinping may feel comfortable breathing in 500 AQI polluted air, most of us would feel a little more confident wearing the adequate protection.
The most important consideration when choosing an air pollution mask is how it fits against your face. An air gap will allow air particulate to be breathed in, basically rendering your mask useless. Many masks may advertise that they are 99% effective, but you need to use your own judgment. If you are wearing glasses and a mask, and your lenses steam up, your mask is not airtight.
You also need to consider the material used to manufacture your mask. The material needs to filter out even small particles of matter. Many masks are rated to illustrate how effective they are at filtering airborne particulate. For example, a U.S National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health certification of N95 is tested to filter out 95% of all airborne particles.
You also need to consider how the mask is ventilated. This is especially important if you want to exercise outdoors. You won’t want a mask that feels heavy and suffocating if you need to heavily exert yourself. A better choice is a mask that creates a comfortable breathing space by resting away from your face.
Finally, you need to consider the style. Some models may be remarkably effective, but if you feel like Darth Vadar every time you wear it, you are not likely to feel comfortable. If you can’t find an effective and attractive mask, there is always the option of wearing a more aesthetically pleasing mask over the top of your effective mask. While this will not double your protection, it will make you feel more confident to wear your mask when you need it.
Best Air Pollution Masks for China
With many people expressing concern about the health impact of air pollution, more and more consumer sites and organizations are beginning to test and evaluate the effectiveness of different air pollution masks. In 2013, the Shanghai Consumer Rights Protection Commission performed tests on 17 disposable air pollution masks and posted the results on their website. The data shows that two models in the top five were manufactured by 3M, which suggests that this brand certainly offers some of the very best on the market. However, if you prefer a reusable mask, you may wish to consider a more pricey option such as a Respro, Totobobo or Vogmask, which have all been positively tested and reviewed.