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China Earth

Face Masks Provide Chinese With False Hope Against Pollution 156

Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Emily Sohn reports at Discovery Magazine that high levels of air pollution in Beijing, where levels of pollution have spiked above 750 micrograms per cubic meter, have caused a run on face masks as people look for ways to protect themselves from the smog. The capital is on its sixth day of an 'orange' smog alert — the second-highest on the scale — with the air tasting gritty and visibility down to a few hundred meters. But experts say that under the hazards they're facing, the masks are unlikely to help much. In fact, images of masked citizens navigating the streets of Beijing highlight the false confidence that people put in face masks in all sorts of situations, including flu outbreaks and operating rooms. For a step up in protection, consumers can buy a category of mask known technically as N95 respirators, which are generally available at hardware stores. N95 facemasks are often used in industrial workplace situations to protect against things like lead dust and welding fumes, and they are certified by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to trap 95 percent of particles sent through them in testing situations. But in order to work N95 respirators need to be professionally fitted to each person's individual face (PDF) to make sure there is a tight seal with no leaks. If they truly fit right, they are uncomfortable to wear."
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Face Masks Provide Chinese With False Hope Against Pollution

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  • by thegarbz ( 1787294 ) on Sunday March 02, 2014 @01:19AM (#46379603)

    For full protection you most definitely need to get the face mask professionally fitted. What this means is that you're shaven clean and strapped to a machine which measured the airpressure inside and outside the mask to establish if any flow is bypassing the filtering elements.

    In my case that involved wearing it breathing normally, breathing heavily, nodding, shaking my head, pulling a face, hunched over looking down, while reading a pre-defined sentence, and then breathing normally again. The machines then give you a pass or fail. My work stocks 2 different dust masks and 3 different half face respirators for this very reason and a mark goes on our security card to determine which models we're allowed to wear.

    Now all that being said none of this at all means that a mask / respirator which hasn't been fit tested is useless, ultimately it just means that it won't afford you the maximum protection (i.e. 90% of particles filtered rather than 95%). Mind you fit testing is a relatively recent idea. Australian OHS regulations have only included the requirement for fit testing for a few years now. Certainly I doubt anyone would have been tested more than about 5-10 years ago.

    I encourage you to do it though. Nothing says waste of time more than putting on a respirator with a P3 filter only to find you can't get more than a P1 rating because it doesn't suit your face. (That P stuff is Australian, I don't know the American ratings)

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