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Do face masks protect against soiling? What experts say



File this under: Silver Lining Department. While you are likely already suffering from severe mask fatigue, and the thought of having to cover up for months (years?) Is as stressful as it is inevitable, there are additional health benefits you may not have anticipated. Yes, masks can protect you from some of the health risks posed by air pollution.

By now, you know that masks are slowing the spread of the coronavirus. However, the novel coronavirus isn’t the only life-threatening element floating through your air. According to the American Lung Association, Exposure to air pollution has been linked to respiratory problems, cardiovascular disease, and even premature death.

The list of conditions and diseases that have been linked to air pollution is intolerably long. For starters, this list includes asthma, lung cancer, and a low birth weight child. However, it turns out that masks actually offer some level of protection. (By the way: did you know that masks can also help protect against the flu?)

How beneficial is the average mask and are all types equally effective against pollution? Richard Peltier, associate professor of environmental health science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, collapses.

Do masks ̵
1; N95, surgical masks and cloth masks – protect us from contamination and from COVID-19?

Peltier: If we just talk about what we call ambient air pollution – that’s the stuff that comes out of factories and the tailpipes of cars and trucks – the answer is yes. When you wear an N95 mask (or a KN95 mask which is its Chinese equivalent) it actually protects you from this type of exposure. These masks filter out the smallest particles pretty well.

When you switch to the low-tech solutions – the cloth masks and bandanas or the surgical masks – these often have very little effect because the particles are so small and can go straight through these fibers in a surgical mask or cloth mask . However, that doesn’t mean they don’t offer protection.

We did a study in 2016 that looked at this – it’s on the order of 15 to 30 percent of the blocked particles. So a cloth mask is better than nothing, but some people get the false sense of security and think, “Well, I’ve got my headscarf on and I shouldn’t have to worry about avoiding that construction site across the street or that big pickup truck spewing diesel exhaust out. “

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What are the differences between cloth masks like bandana and surgical masks when it comes to environmental pollution?

Peltier: Neither fit very well over the gaps around your face. When you take a deep breath, particles or air pollutants often get through these small gaps on the sides of your cheeks and the bridge of your nose. So they do equally badly in terms of their fit.

That being said, surgical masks turn out to be the better of the two, and that has to do with the construction of the fabrics themselves. The fabric in a surgical mask is made up of very tightly woven small fibers that stick together. You cannot see through a surgical mask. You can hold it up to the sunlight, but you can’t see through it. While with a cloth mask, if you hold it up, you can see through. When it comes to performance, the surgical mask material filters better than cloth masks.

Is there a risk of a mask being woven too tightly? I have a cousin who thinks if she wears a mask she gets sick from breathing in her own germs.

Peltier: Very often, when I publish work on face masks, these conspiratorial populations find me and they accuse me of killing people for encouraging them to wear face masks. This year in particular, this issue has been heavily politicized for all sorts of reasons, and that’s what led to these crazy Facebook theories: How wearing a mask can make you sick or breathe too much carbon dioxide. And it’s just not true.

Any doctor, technician, or nurse will be quick to tell you that there really is no impact on their performance. If a surgeon can operate with a face mask for eight hours without any adverse effects, you can go to the grocery store and be fine.

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