Your face mask could be a killer

Masks made of cheap plastic PVC material are dangerous

As air pollution spikes by over 25% this winter, Bengalureans have a ready defence: Face masks. But the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) has warned that the low-quality masks are more dangerous than not wearing them at all.

The masks are made of cheap plastic PVC material. Exposed to sunlight for long periods, it disintegrates into smaller particles. “Inhaling these particles will be much more dangerous than the pollutants,” a KSPCB official told DH.

The city traffic police had approached the board for its approval of masks made by 10 brands. “We had to reject them all as none of them adhered to specifications,” the official said, preferring anonymity. Thousands of traffic police constables are directly exposed to vehicular emissions and resuspended road dust that perennially hangs in the air at low levels.

So, what is the alternative? “Wearing a cotton kerchief will be far safer than the masks you see on the roads. A few manufacturers have now come out with masks with standard features. We need to evaluate them.”

The board has also warned against re-using single-use masks. “Nobody dumps these use-and-throw masks that cost about Rs 40 to 50,” the official says.

For the policemen, autorickshaw drivers and passengers, motorcyclists and footpath vendors, safe masks are critical to protecting themselves from a deadly mix of exhaust and road dust. The dust contains a toxic mix of metals, unburnt carbon, sulphates and chlorides.

The onset of winter has injected a sense of urgency in guarding against rising pollution. KSPCB reminds that the dip in temperature has already lowered the altitude of pollutants. Since this ‘mixing height’ has dropped, the concentration of pollutants has increased. Once the sun sets, this rise in density is even higher.

The board is now banking on rains, predicted over the next few days, to bring the pollutants down. The fine dust particles floating in the ambient air get mixed with raindrops and are washed down.

Vehicular emissions account for 42% of the city’s pollutants, followed by road dust that make up 20%. Construction dust and industrial emissions make up 14% each.

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Your face mask could be a killer

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