Despite numerous scientific studies, increasing evidence, and extensive media coverage, the menace of air pollution receives less attention than it deserves in public discourse. As the impacts of bad air quality continue to plague our daily lives, the question remains: Why have we failed to take pollution head-on?
Lack of political will and awareness are often blamed as the biggest obstacles in the battle. However, misconceptions about air pollution are also preventing effective individual action. Equipped with accurate scientific knowledge, we can protect our families and force authorities to do their job.
As the pollution season commences in many parts of India, we attempt to bust some inaccurate statements about air pollution and provide scientific facts on the topic:
Surgical masks are the best defense against air pollution
People wearing surgical masks in pollution season are a common sight in Delhi and other cities. However, these masks may not stop you from inhaling harmful air pollutants. A typical half-face surgical mask has a pore size of around 5-10 micrometer, whereas the pollutants that pose maximum health risks for humans are of 2.5 micrometers or less. Moreover, such masks rarely cover the nose and mouth completely providing enough gap for pollutants to percolate freely, especially from sides.
A study conducted in China showed that the commonly-used surgical face masks allowed up to 68% of pollutants to leak inside. Therefore, it is always advisable to opt for anti-pollution masks, some of which are up to 90% effective in filtering particulate matter. Having said that, it is still better to use any mask, or even a simple scarf, to cover your face than using nothing.
“The surgical mask is of no use in preventing the health impacts of air pollution. Ideally one needs an N95 (mask which blocks at least 95% of minute particles) or N99 mask that can limit the pollutants entering the body. However, a mask is not a solution. It is only an adaptation measure,” says Prarthana Borah, Director of the Clean Air Asia-India.