Particulate masks

For a new century in which inhaling gets only more dangerous


Buy this from the artist, sam.

For my morning commute through heavy industrial districts and bushfires, I want a mask to keep smoke/dust out of my lungs, since I have reason to be worried about the PM2.5 levels in Sydney air, a.k.a. microscopic-dust-that-gives-you-cancer, which I have no reason to believe are safe or even competently monitored and which I am likely exposed to as a cyclist commuting through construction sites. Or, after the notorious 2019 Australian bushfire season, by simply breathing anywhere

But which mask? Firstly, I don’t want some little paper medical mask, I want real fillers to remove harmful particulates from the air etc. So, an industrial one?

Side question: Do any of these masks have hygiene benefits also?

Monitoring air quality

In fact wearing masks is not pleasant or convenient, so doing a cost benefit analysis is wise.

I am am sure there are a lot of details about this, but there are some respected broad-brush estiamates.

AQICN will do estimates of city air badness.

Another interesting source is the visualiser by nullschool.net.

Global Pm2.5 concentrations on 2019-12-21 earth.nullschool.net.

Cheap industrial masks

Myhealth Beijing summarises the mask selection, crystallized upon the needs of Beijing’s extreme case.

3M definitely was a consistent performer in almost any category, and certainly remains my personal gold standard for masks. Another standout is the MASKin brand, which was just as solid as 3M in all three reports. […] ]

Another “winner” seems to be masks with exhalation valves, which usually performed well with filtration but especially in the other categories with improved resistance and decreased leakage. For what it’s worth, my current personal favorite mask is the disposable, foldable 3M 9001V which I grab from my local 7-Eleven. […]

All three reports still didn’t test most of those most commonly used reusable masks in the expat community, […] , since I am a data geek and this is a HONCode-certified evidence-based blog, it’s now a bit difficult to really recommend any of those commercial, reusable brands at this time as a first choice.

NB the 3M 9001V is only “P1” rated in Australia, which is not the P2 (which i think is the N95) gold standard for carcinogen avoidance.

Hipster masks

The reusuable/fashion masks are a bit less awkward and (probably?) produce less landfill waste. But do they work?

Respro have too many options; I get confused. They are wildly expensive, but garner cycling hipster approval for the ultralight. It’s unclear how this comfort and convenience rating relates to effectiveness.

Vogmask and Cambridge masks look nice, but do they actually stop particles? The latter two seem to fit loosely, much looser than would plausibly, to my inexpert mind, stop pollution getting in my lungs. For all of these the real approval I want is independent lab testing of their goodness, which AFAICT is not available. I wish it were, because the disposable masks are not ideal for cycling, and they are not easy to get in sydney so maintaining a stockpile of them is tedious.

Medical/anti-COVID-19 masks

See hygienic masks.