New Delhi: In India, winters come along with high levels of pollution that often reach ‘severe’ levels, creating an emergency situation. It is the start of November and air quality index (AQI) in Delhi has already reached 393, falling under ‘very poor’ category. With Diwali and winters being round the corner, situation is expected to turn worse. As people struggle to breathe fresh air, ndtv spoke to Dr. Vivek Nangia, Director and Head of Pulmonology at Fortis Hospital, Delhi, to understand how effective masks are to protect users from ill-effects of pollution.
Before understanding the variety of masks, you need to be well informed about the constituents of air pollution. Air pollution comprises of three substances namely particulate matter (PM) which is categorised into different levels as PM 1, PM 2.5, PM 10, so on and so forth. Then we have toxic gases like sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, ammonia and then we have heavy metals like lead. No air pollution mask can filter any of the toxic gas, but you can protect yourself from PM and heavy metals, explains Dr. Nangia.
Three Things To Keep In Mind While Buying An Air Pollution Mask
1. Particulate Matter Size That It Can Filter
Particulate matter is the suspended matter in the air which according to the size causes the damage. For instance, PM 10 and above size gets filtered at the level of the nose because of the filter in our nose which does not allow the larger particles to go inside. These kinds of particles only cause irritation in the eyes, nose and throat. While a particle size between 2.5 and 10 go into the deeper parts like lungs, one less than 2.5 go and rest inside the lungs and from there it travels into different parts of the body through the blood circulation. Particle size less than 1 micron can go directly into the blood stream of the body and cause damage.
Masks are available with different filter sizes. While buying one, you have to keep in mind the particulate matter size a mask can filter. While some masks are able to filter upto PM 2.5, others are capable of filtering up till PM 0.3. An individual should choose on the basis of PM a mask can filter out. It should preferably be as small the size as possible, tells Dr. Nangia.
Whichever mask you are buying should be certified by a government agency assuring it is approved and its quality is maintained. In India, there are no government specifications on how an air pollution mask should be so go with the American guidelines. As per American guidelines, N95 and N99 are the two prescribed quality of masks. Talking about the same, Dr. Nangia says,
N95 and N99 are percentage of toxic particles blocked by a mask. In simpler terms, N95 designation mask means 95 per cent of PM will be prevented from going inside the body. N99 filters 99 per cent of the PM of different levels. The size of the particle matter filtered will vary, depending on the type of mask you buy.
3. Fit Of The Mask
A mask should be snugly fit which means it should sit perfectly on the nasel bridge and cover entire nose and mouth. If it doesn’t, it completely defeats the purpose.
It is crucial to ensure mask fits you perfectly. If mask will not cover your nose and mouth then air will enter from the sides and wearing or not wearing a mask will mean the same, says Dr. Nangia.
Apart from the above mentioned points, you can also consider the re-usability level that is for how long you can use the same mask. While some masks are one time use which means you use it in the morning and dispose it by the evening, others can be washed and used multiple times. The re-usability also depends on the mask you are using.
While the simplest mask which is disposable mask can cost you Rs. 100 – Rs. 130, and reusable mask varies anything between Rs. 900 – Rs. 2,500.
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swachh India campaign lends support to the Government of India’s Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM). Helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan, the campaign aims to spread awareness about hygiene and sanitation, the importance of building toilets and making India open defecation free (ODF) by October 2019, a target set by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, when he launched Swachh Bharat Abhiyan in 2014. Over the years, the campaign has widened its scope to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and menstrual hygiene. The campaign has also focused extensively on marine pollution, clean Ganga Project and rejuvenation of Yamuna, two of India’s major river bodies.