When to use an N95 mask for air pollution in Shanghai
When traveling to Beijing, it is common to see both locals and expats wearing face masks, but in Shanghai they were rarely seen before 2013.
As air pollution in Shanghai becomes more of a concern, and awareness of the effects of air pollution on our health increases, however, a pollution mask has also become a necessity here.
It has been proven in many studies that small particulate matter can be very harmful to our health, especially particulate matter called PM2.5. It is highly recommended, therefore, to use a respirator, a special kind of face mask, when the China Air Quality Index (AQI) reading exceeds 200, or even lower if you have breathing problems.
We have a list of suppliers expats can contact to buy pollution face masks in Shanghai, as well as useful resources and related news items below. Click here to skip directly to the lists.
It is important to note that when you are close to vehicles, or other polluting sources, the actual AQI level you are exposed to will be higher than what you might read off a smart-phone app or website for Shanghai air quality, as AQI is very location-sensitive.
So even when Shanghai’s AQI reading does not exceed 200, consider using a respirator if you bike or scooter in traffic to work, or regularly walk along busy streets.
Totobobo is a popular brand of protective face mask in Shanghai
What kind of face mask should you wear to protect yourself from air pollution?
Using a cloth face mask, like those you often see the locals wearing in China, or cheaper cyclists masks will only keep out splashes, sprays and larger droplets and particles; it will do little to help you avoid small particles such as PM2.5 entering your lungs.
In two studies done in Beijing, however, it was shown that wearing a special kind of respirator, known as a N95 mask, can be very effective in preventing adverse effects of air pollution on blood pressure and heart rate variability. See results of these tests here and here.
N95 refers to a standard developed by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in the US. The mask can filter 95 percent of all particles 0.3 microns and larger in size, therefore including PM2.5 and much smaller particles.
There are several foreign brands of N95 masks being sold in China, most notably 3M, Totobobo and Vogmask. Many Chinese manufacturers have also received N95 certification for their products. You can check here to see if a mask has this certification.
The European Union has its own standard for respirators.
This report from the BBC discusses some of the drawbacks with bikers using masks that don't fit well.
It is important to remember, however, that the mask will only be effective if it fits your face tightly to avoid any air leaking around the mask, and it must be comfortable and easy to breathe with.
An exhalation valve, installed on some N95 mask models, will make breathing out easier and help reduce heat build-up. So don't choose a brand just because it says it is N95 approved.
As reported by the Shanghai Daily, tests carried out by the Shanghai Consumer Rights Protection Commission in August of 2013 on 17 face masks being sold in local convenience stores showed that more than half exaggerated their ability to filter PM 2.5, and several of them had a high leakage rate, making them almost useless.
Most N95 masks are only suitable for adults, as they are difficult to fit tightly to children's faces. However, some brands have recently come out with children's models.
Wearing such a mask can be even more critical for children, as they spend longer periods of time outdoors, just when their lungs are developing.
It is important to read the instructions clearly for each different type of pollution mask. Some should be disposed of after a single use, some after a few uses, some have changeable filters and some can be washed and reused.
For more reviews of face masks used in China, please refer to this website by a Beijing expat doctor.
For information on air purifier machines in Shanghai click here.
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