Why would you wear that? PART 2

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Respiratory Protection in Asia – Do we actually need protecting?

Okay, so Part 1 of this series introduced you to “masks” I have observed to be used in Asia to protect against contaminated air.  I must admit I have never seen so many people wearing respiratory protection in some form or another in my life. Which raises the questions “is there really that much contaminant (AKA “bad stuff”) in the air?” and “do we actually need protection?”

Since working in Laos, I have noticed significant changes in seasonal air quality. I arrived in October, the end of the rain season. It is now the dry season and rural populations are preparing land to plant rice by slashing and burning all vegetable matter (termed by scientists as “biomass burning”). It is obvious to anyone with eyes that the burning activities significantly burdens the air with contaminants. The pictures below, taken at the same location show the visible difference in the seasonal air quality (October 2014 and April 2015).

Asian Air Pollution

Smoke-filled air from biomass burning 05.04.2015

Buring Season in Laos

So what are the facts?

Well, the World Health Organisation (WHO) reports:
– in 2012, 1 in 8 of all global deaths (approx 7 million ppl) was resultant of air pollution exposure; and
– sufficient evidence now demonstrates that air pollution is the world’s single largest environmental health risk.

So what is “Air Pollution” then?

Simply put, air pollution is made up of Indoor Air Pollution and Outdoor Air Pollution

Indoor Air Pollution – The Facts:

Pollution and Exposure Source: Pollutants generated from open fires and simple stoves used to cook and heat the home using solid fuels such as wood, crop wastes, charcoal, coal and animal dung. Such fuels produce small soot particles that penetrate deep into the lungs. In poorly ventilated dwellings, indoor smoke can be 100 times higher than acceptable levels.

Population Affected: Approx. 3 billion globally. Exposure is high among women and young children in low and middle-income countries, who spend the most time near the domestic fire.

Health Outcomes: 4.3 million premature deaths annually.

(WHO, 2012)

Outdoor Air Pollution – The Facts:

Pollution and Exposure Source: Pollutants arise from household solid fuel fires, motor vehicles, agricultural waste incineration, forest fires, certain agroforestry activities (e.g. charcoal production) and power plants.  Exposure concentrations differ by geographic areas and time spent in various settings.

Population Affected: Persons who live in the Western Pacific and South-East Asia regions disproportionately experience the burden of outdoor air pollution accounting for 88% of all premature deaths globally.

Health Outcomes: 3.7 million premature deaths annually.

NOTE: In 2013 an assessment by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) concluded that outdoor air pollution is carcinogenic to humans, with the particulate matter component of air pollution most closely associated with increased cancer incidence, especially cancer of the lung.

(WHO, 2012)

Okay, air pollution is a real issue for people who live in the Western Pacific and South-East Asia regions:

When combined, the population of the Western Pacific and South East Asian regions approximates to 3.2 billion people. Almost half of the world’s population!

South East Asian and Western Pacific Countries

Do we need protecting?   Yes!  or as the Laos would say “man lao”!


PART 1  – Whats the deal?

PART 3 – How will a mask protect me?