While cycling is rightly seen as a healthy pursuit, every urban biker knows the dangers of riding in rush-hour traffic. Not only do we have to contend with the hazards posed by careless motorists, inattentive pedestrians and poorly-designed cycle paths, but also with the cocktail of traffic fumes, exhaust gases and airborne particulates that we inhale into our lungs every day.
Air pollution – primarily caused by traffic fumes – can cause significant discomfort for city cyclists, with many reporting breathing and cardiovascular problems prompted by the inhalation of gases such as carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone and hydrocarbons including benzene and pyrene, as well as fine particulate air pollution (brick dust, pollen etc.). Riders with pre-existing conditions such as asthma or hayfever can find air pollution worsens their symptoms, while even those without such conditions can report persistent sore throats or other lung problems.
For anyone experiencing discomfort with urban air pollution- not just cyclists but joggers, motorcyclists and other urban dwellers as well – an anti-pollution mask is the ideal way to protect your lungs and respiratory system against the worst effects of exhaust fumes from cars, trucks and buses.
Read on to find out more about anti-pollution masks and to help find which one is right for you.
Which mask is right for you?
Anti-pollution masks typically fit around the lower half of the face and contain a filter – or pair of filters – which are designed to trap the tiny airborne particles that make up air pollution. These particles may typically ranges from 0.5 (sub-micron) to 10+ microns in size, with a micron being equivalent to ×10−6 of a metre; or one thousandth of a millimetre (0.001 mm).
The type of filters used in commuter anti-pollution masks will typically be designed to trap particles as small as 0.3 microns in size.
Some things to take into consideration when choosing an anti-pollution mask are:
• Filter type: Different pollution masks will use different types of filters offering various levels of filtration. For anyone experiencing health issues or with pre-existing allergic conditions a Hepa-type filter that can trap sub-micron particles such as pollen or other irritant dusts is advisable. It’s also important to note that filters must be regularly replaced in order for the mask to function effectively – follow the manufacturer’s advice with regard to frequency of replacement and factor in the future cost of spare filters when browsing mask choices.
• Exhalation valves: Some mask users can find that filters offer a high level of breathing resistance when exhaling, making it difficult to breathe under exertion. For this reason a mask with exhalation valves, allowing you to easily and efficiently expel air, is advisable.
• Size and fit: It’s essential that your mask fits snugly to the face in order to prevent unfiltered air coming through. While commuter masks are not hermetically sealed, they are available in a range of sizes and with adjustable nosebands in order to ensure a tight fit to the skin. Choose a size that fits your face and if you have facial hair be aware that this may affect the seal and so the effectiveness of the mask.
• Ventilation: For mask wearers who are physically exerting themselves – as with anyone pushing themselves on a bike commute – a mask with good breathability is important to prevent buildup of sweat. Look for a well-vented model that can channel cool air over the face.
NOTE: Commuter anti-pollution masks should conform to European Standard EN149FFP1(S) for respiratory protection masks, but should not be used for industrial applications where a device complying with European Directives 89/686 or 89/656 for toxic particles is required.