Ironically, the day I’m relaying this information is the one of the few truly “blue sky days” that we’ve had in Beijing this year. In response to this horrific year of pollution in China, Qingdao’s myRedstar website put together a list of recommended 口罩 (kǒuzhào, masks) to help protect oneself from the relentless onslaught of particulate matter in the air. This year has gotten off to a bad start with the National Meteorological Center reporting the air in Eastern China as being in the worst air condition since 1961, with 20 smog days in January alone. In early January, during Beijing’s Air Apocalypse, the level of PM 2.5 particulates in the air nearly broke the 1,000 threshold. The government promised to implement measures to alleviate the problem such as cutting down on construction activity, curtail factory production in the cities, limiting vehicle usage by 30% on polluted days, discouraging fireworks, and stopping outdoor activity for school children on heavily polluted days. The problem is so massive and unfortunately according the Chinese experts on “Tiger Talks“, the problem is only going to get a lot worse for the foreseeable future as the sources are only going to increase. Now that the dangers of PM 2.5 have been made known and the daily numbers are being reported by both western and Chinese media, there has been a mad rush on masks that the prices have skyrocketed and have become in short supply on Taobao.
“Thanks to a dear reader, Quentin Polosky, a resident in Shanghai, we found out that 3M actually has suitable masks that have actually been around since 1972: “Disposable Respirators” or “Filtering Facepiece Respirators”. Although originally created for construction workers for on site use, 3M suggests that some models are perfect for respiratory protection against smog. These are the following:
3M Particulate Respirator 8200 This economical disposable N95 particulate respirator is designed to help provide reliable worker respiratory protection against certain non-oil based particles. In this case the PM 2.5 and PM10. You can buy them on the 3M website for $12.71 Box/20 Respirators.
However, If you also want to protect yourself from O3 and S02 you need a model with carbon filtering, 3M recommends the following:
3M Particulate Respirator 8514 This disposable particulate welding respirator is designed for applications where metal fumes are presented including those with ozone and nuisance level vapors. $581.09 Case/80 Respirators
3M Particulate Respirator 8577 This model provides the best protection from both particles (PM 2.5 and PM10) and ozone and nuisance level vapors (O3 and S02) $398.16 Case/80 Respirators.
There are several other respirator types that you can find in the 3M Product Catalog. If you find the above respirators a bit expensive you can buy smaller quantities on this website or cheaper versions on Taobao (beware of sellers of fake products!).”
“There is another mask manufacturing company from Singapore “Totobobo” that claims that their masks cut down 99.85% of 0.1 microns particles (PM2.5 is 2.5 micron particles). Their masks are reusable (only the filters need to be changed) and fit all down to 5 year olds.
You can buy their four different types of masks for $23 and filter packs starting from $19 on their online webshop here.”
“Moldex is an American based company specialized in disposable respiratory masks. Their 2360P100 model offers protection of 99.97% and their cool looking black model SPECIAL OPS ®M2800N95 offers 95% against particles and has a carbon filter to reduce O3 and SO2. These products are about $34.50 per 10.”
Here are three more masks to consider as well:
I Can Breathe! Honeycomb ACF Pollution Mask
This mask was designed by an educator and writer with the help of her daughter who is a milliner and costume designer. It consists of a light weight activated carbon filter combined with two inner polyester linings with the outer layer. Their confusing website claims that it reduces particulate air pollution by 99% to 100%. Oddly, the site then lists studies carried out by agencies in the US, Mexico, and the UK which each listed wildly different numbers with differing test methodologies and pollutants that were measured. Nevertheless, each study showed a significant reduction in pollutants entering through the mask, though never achieving 100% effectiveness. The mask is listed on Taobao ranging from ￥175 – 195 .
Respro is a UK-based company that designs and manufactures masks for cycling and motorcycling in polluted air. The masks have three components: a thick neoprene layer that comes in various colors, an inner filter that needs to be replaced roughly every 69 hours of use (I cycle 2 hours every day, so about once a month), and two large valves that allow air exhaled to quickly exit, but close to prevent polluted air in. According to a customer service representative for the company posted on the My Health Beijing website, “Our Sportsta and Techno masks are rated at and average of 88% and conform to FFP1S levels.” The mask is designed to block out 99% of particles down to 0.3 microns in size. However, it only achieves a level of 88% protection due to ‘inward leakage’ which means that the masks are not completely hermetically sealed with the face around the nose. The mask comes in three models that are designed for different levels of man-made pollution:
1. Sports filter – for sub-micron particle filtration (Respirable dusts)
2. City filter – for micron particle filtration (inhaleable dusts PM10) and Organic vapour uptake. (City Mask/ Nightsite mask standard issue)
3. Techno filter – for sub-micron particle filtration (Respirable dusts)
These masks must be imported from the UK, thus their price is somewhat higher and the filters need to be replaced on a regular basis. The World Health Store sells them online for ￥412.20.
Since fossil fuel pollution isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, Vogmask probably represents the future of pollution masks as a fashion accessory. It comes in an ever-expanding variety of colors and patterns. It is also trying to be part of the solution to the pollution problem by being based on a non-woven organic cotton material that is reusable and washable. According to their website, “It filters all particles over 3 micrometers in size including bacteria.” Unlike most of the previous masks, there is yet to be independent testing on the actual percentage of particles that these masks filter out, but hey, they look cool. They sell for $20 on their website.
One final note of caution, don’t bother to have your relatives mail you a big box of pollution masks to China from overseas as they are considered “medical supplies” and therefore will be intercepted before they ever arrive to you. You’re best bet is to either order them online or purchase them in one of the stores mentioned in this blog.
UPDATE: 7-Elevens in Beijing and Shanghai now sell a wide variety of PM 2.5 masks including products that have the 3M label on them. We cannot guarantee the authenticity of the 3M masks for sale in these stores, but you can check for specific model numbers corresponding to actual 3M products on their 3M China website. By they way, The World of Chinese magazine will be available for purchase in many 7-Eleven stores in Beijing starting late January, 2014! Here are photos of some 3M-labeled masks for sale at a 7-Eleven in Beijing’s Chaoyang District:
For more information on masks, see our list of top five and bottom five masks based on a recent Shanghai Consumer Rights Protection Commission report.