Do masks also protect against air pollution? Not all

This year we have normalized that almost the entire population in Spain wear masks to protect ourselves from COVID-19. Some types of masks are also protecting us from air pollution, which has not disappeared in the pandemic or is no longer a problem. It is convenient to know a little more about these protection elements.

I’ve been thinking about this idea for a while, are masks also protecting us from air pollution? The answer is not a resounding “yes”, because you have to qualify it. Before talking about types of masks, there are a couple of basics to understand.

The SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus is extremely small, 50 to 200 nanometers. In theory, masks are not used to filter it per se, but the virus needs a vehicle to move through the air, droplets and aerosols. That is what the masks filter – according to their degree of protection – so, in practice, filter virus transmission or greatly reduce viral load.

That is already a good reason to use masks, especially in closed spaces, where aerosols can accumulate and the risk of contagion increases considerably. Now we are going to see a good reason to use them outdoors, the atmospheric pollution.

Decathlon reusable hygienic mask, in accordance with UNE 0065: 2020 standard and 93% filtration capacity (BFE 94%)

Without trying to take any of the iron out of the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic, air pollution continues to kill much more than coronavirus. There are 1.34 million victims worldwide, while diseases that cause premature deaths linked to pollution kill between 4 and 7 million. In Europe there would be almost 800,000 victims a year (for COVID-19 there are almost 350,000).

Diseases linked to pollution are not transmitted between humans, another important difference with respect to the coronavirus

It must also be said that breathing air pollution has longer-term effects, so its immediate lethality is lower. Anyway, poking around a bit in articles from the pre-COVID era, the masks were only used by toilets, people with a respiratory disease or Asian tourists

. It is so. It was like that. A few years ago, the convenience of using masks to protect ourselves from contamination was already discussed, but not all, but fromSolid particles , which are bad combustion products. The smallest particles,PM 2.5 They are the most dangerous, because they can enter the bloodstream and few exhaust systems manage to neutralize them. They have been considered by WHO for yearsprecursor particles of various types of cancer


: the generalization of masks in Asia was fundamentally against air pollution Differences between types of masks – Source: General Council of Pharmaceutical CollegesAccording to information provided by the General Council of Pharmaceutical Associations (see PDF), three levels of protection with filtering must be distinguished: FFP1, FFP2 and FFP3. The most common masks, surgical, hygienic and reusable hygienic masks do not provide protection against aerosols or PM 2.5 particles.

They are not considered PPE


This author suggests that the reader check the approval of their masks. Server has at home several reusable masks in accordance with the UNE 0065: 2020 standard, which despite having a filtration capacity of 90% or more, would allow both aerosols and the smallest particles to pass through. You never go to bed without learning something new. The fit to the face must be perfect, if not, the efficiency of the filtering we use does not matterFor reliable protection from these two dangerous elements, you have to go to the FFP2 or FFP3 level , both with and without relief valve, being the


the most recommended. These two types of masks are considered PPE – personal protective equipment. They may be more or less annoying, but it is clear that they will have more beneficial effects on our health than the other way around. The rest of the products of the emissions are allowed to pass, but something is something. Respro® Sportsta ™ cycling mask with 99% filtration capacity (PM 1.0). Legally you can ride a bicycle without a mask, but if you are doing sports and not a normal movementEvidently,

the higher the degree of filtration, the greater the difficulty in breathing

, and this is more noticeable doing sports or with a reduced capacity to breathe for any reason. The safest and most convenient option would be a mask with an active carbon filter, but it would be the equivalent of going with a bulletproof vest on the street: safe, but impractical.

There are masks for specific use for cyclists and with protection level FFP3 with filters. Yes, they are very effective, but we are talking about masks that cost 40-50 euros, and here the cost / benefit ratio fails. It may be that within a few years, health specialists will confirm that having used masks in a massive way has reduced the incidence of cardiorespiratory diseases. I leave it as a hypothesis. Disposable FFP2 masks have a shelf life of 10 hours and are used to combat both pandemics, coronavirus and particulate matter The best advice I can give is to inquire about the

technical characteristics of the masks

to know its level of effectiveness, firstly against COVID-19 (because it is a more immediate risk), secondly for contamination. And is that the pandemic has a beneficial side effect, wearing a mask to protect ourselves from contamination is something we can do literally without anyone noticing or looking at us strangely …