Despite being a common sight in polluted cities, particularly those in Asia, new research suggests that face masks designed to filter out pollution particles may not be as effective as they claim to be.
With estimates suggesting that air pollution causes 1.6 million premature deaths in China each year, the researchers also looked at the levels of air pollution in the capital and the potential effects on health.
A team tested nine masks all claiming to protect wearers from inhaling fine particle pollution from car and industrial exhaust.
Also known as PM2.5, these fine particulate matters are tiny particles suspended in the air measuring 2.5 micrometers or smaller, which, when inhaled, are deposited in the lungs. By comparison, a human hair is between 50 and 70 micrometers thick.
Each mask was tested for their effectiveness for filtering pollution particles by drawing airborne diesel exhaust through a section of the mask’s material for 30 minutes and measuring the levels of particulate matter and black carbon on both sides.
The results showed that the masks varied significantly in their effectiveness, with the team finding that depending on the material used for the mask, the average particle and carbon penetration ranged from 0.26% to 29%.
The team finding that the average leakage from the masks ranged from as low as three percent to as much as 68% while the participants performed sedentary tasks such as sitting.
While performing active tasks the average leakage ranged from seven percent to 66%. Only one mask had an average leakage below 10% on both active and sedentary tests.
Although retail masks must be certified to local or international standards, the results suggest that the face masks currently found on the market may not provide adequate protection.
If it’s important for you to protect yourself or your family with masks, perhaps choose the best one. Don’t opt for the cheapest option as those are not what’s most likely to do the best job.