Masks stop-gap solution for the pollution menace
Leading doctors have gone public about how masks must fit well, without air leakage, to be effective. That’s hard, because all of us have differently contoured faces, so one cannot expect to find the perfect fit.Updated: Nov 04, 2019 06:50 IST
Masks are complex, if you’re using them to fight air pollution. As North India is haze-hit and it moves eastwards, many of us look out for masks. I won’t talk about which mask-N95s are available for lower prices - but do they work for everyone?
Leading doctors have gone public about how masks must fit well, without air leakage, to be effective. That’s hard, because all of us have differently contoured faces, so one cannot expect to find the perfect fit.
Besides, correctly worn masks trap carbon-dioxide, so you feel suffocated. CO2 also impacts the brain. But if you let air into your mask then you’ve taken in pollution. It is almost impossible to fit on your mask well and exercise or work. Workers report that they cannot garden with a well-fitting mask, or be heard clearly, or move constantly.
These challenges aside, masks prevent some pollution from entering your bloodstream — a positive outcome. Given how vulnerable young children and the elderly are, we must minimize their exposure. I believe even an imperfect N 95 mask is OK in such trying times.
Having said all this, it’s all not OK to turn to masks as a policy prescription—it hides the shortcomings and offers a false sense of security. For policy makers, for leaders, what we expect is to take on the big challenges, like public transport and construction. We don’t need a semi-solution that we can muddle along with ourselves. Politicos shouldn’t turn into desperate citizens when things turn grim.
(Founder and Director, Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group)