Why would you wear that? PART 4

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airpollution

Respiratory Protection in Asia – The Truth About Masks Used

Do you want the truth?  Think you can handle the truth?

Well, the truth is the following three methods used to protect yourself from breathing in contaminated air will not provide you any protection at all!

IMG_2087 Respiratory Protection2 IMG_2298

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, however, this blog is not all about sunshine 1F304 and rainbows 1F308
This blog is intended to shed some light on the “masks” commonly used to protect people from airborne hazards in Asia, and tell you why they don’t work.

NOTE: The information presented below is not based on rigorous filtration efficiency testing repeated in a laboratory.   The information presented answers one simple question i.e. “will that mask protect me?”  It’s pretty simple to answer, either it will or it won’t protect you.

In Part 3 of this Respiratory Protection in Asia Series, we explored the Principals of Protection.  We now know that a mask will only protect you when all of the air that goes into your lungs passes through a filter that removes all of the bad stuff from the air. To achieve these two fundamental things need to occur:

1. the filter media has to be designed and tested to prove that the contaminants you are protecting yourself from will be removed from the air; and
2. all of the air has to pass through the filter before it reaches your lungs – that is, no bad air is can pass through the filter or travel through any gap.

So let’s apply these principles to the mask most commonly seen to be worn in Asia……the good old Medical Mask. Surgical-Face-Mask

Firstly what is a medical mask?

In the 1890’s a German bacteriologist and hygienist, by the name of Carl Flügge discovered infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and cholera could be transmitted through droplets released from people’s mouths and noses (AKA Flügge droplets) .  This discovery lead to the development of the first medical masks consisting of gauze strips placed over the wearer’s mouth. It is believed French surgeon Paul Berger was the first to wear a surgical mask while operating in 1897.

These days, despite the introduction of immunisation and antibiotic drugs, used to control communicable diseases and infection such masks continue to be used for purposes of:

– limiting the transmission of infective agents from staff to patients during surgical procedures;
– protecting the wearer against splashes of potentially contaminated liquids; and
– reducing the risk of spreading infections, particularly in epidemic or pandemic situations.

Okay, so let’s apply the respiratory protection principles to test the Medical Mask:

Will the mask filter remove the airborne contaminants?

Dust captured in respirator with crossNo Square1No, the mask will not filter airborne contaminants.  Why? because fundamentally the medical mask is designed to stop germs released by the wearer from reaching the outside world – – they are not designed to stop airborne contaminants from the outside world getting in!

 

 


Will the mask fit the wearer’s face so no gaps between the mask and the wearer’s face are possible?

child-surgical
No Square1No, the mask does not mold to the wearer’s face to achieve an adequate seal.

 

 

 

What about the designer masks you ask? Surely they must protect you, they look so good.

IMG_2058

I am told that the designer masks are preferred over the medical masks, however, they are more expensive and, therefore, are less common.  I have also been told that an added benefit of these masks is you can wash them and they will last up to 3 or 4 months.

 

 

 

So what are the masks made up of?

FotorCreatedThe masks are made of 3 layers. The first layer is cotton fabric, the second is a foam insert and the third layer is mesh material.IMG_2306_2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So let’s apply the respiratory protection principles to test the Designer Mask:

Will the mask filter remove the airborne contaminants?

IMG_2363IMG_2363_2The simple answer is no No Square1
Why’s that you ask? Well, the material the masks are made of allows airborne contaminants to pass through and into your lungs. In Part 3 of this series, we demonstrated the size of airborne particles (PM10 and PM2.5) in comparison to a human hair. The photo on the left shows a human hair that has been pushed through the mask to demonstrate how big the holes are in the material are. The photo on the right shows how the large holes can be seen with the naked eye.

Will the mask fit the wearer’s face so no gaps between the mask and the wearer’s face are possible?

Designer Mask  No Square1No, the edges of the mask are not adequate to enough for the wearer to achieve a seal and prevent leaks.

 

 

 

 

 

What about covering your and mouth and nose with your hand for protection?

Covering mouth and noseNo Square1It’s actually quite difficult to apply the respiratory protection principles to this method of protection. The human hand is not pervious, i.e. air cannot pass through your hand.
Now, hypothetically speaking just say you were able to seal off your mouth and nose with your hand, then how would you actually breathe? Let’s face it, to breathe in clean air we need to remove the bad contaminants, to do this we need a filter. The hand is not a filter. Once you remove your hand away from your face you will continue to breathe in the contamination.

Don’t miss the final blog in this 5 part series where we take a look at the real challenges for protecting persons lungs in Asia.

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