Blog archive
Are surgical masks effective against pollution?
Friday, 25 April 2008, Written by Trouni   

You might have seen many Chinese wearing surgical masks in the streets to protect themselves against pollution and you probably already asked yourself: are these masks really effective against air pollution?

These masks are not suited against pollution and the main reason is simple: these masks are designed to protect others from droplets you might spread.

When these masks are tested, the filtration is measured from the air you exhale and not the one you breathe in. Even if they can slightly reduce the risk of infections through droplets, they are definitely not a suitable solution against air pollution.

Quoting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:

20061201-img_3300_small.jpg”Facemasks are loose-fitting, disposable masks that cover the nose and mouth. These include products labeled as surgical, dental, medical procedure, isolation, and laser masks.
Facemasks help stop droplets from being spread by the person wearing them. They also keep splashes or sprays from reaching the mouth and nose of the person wearing the facemask. They are not designed to protect you against breathing in very small particles. Facemasks should be used once and then thrown away in the trash.“

If you are sick during a flu pandemic you should definitely wear a facemask to prevent the spreading of the virus. But otherwise, if you are seeking effective protection against a polluted environment or a flu pandemy, you will definitely need a respiratory mask.
frederic muller wrote thanks for the research:
I was always wondering whether it was worth wearing those. I think for some Chinese actually it's quite useful, it protects us from their spit ;)
Julien wrote Re: Fred:
Hi Fred, you are right that spitting is not good to avoid spreading diseases. That's why it was forbidden by Chinese Government during SARS crisis. However, the situation improved greatly ov... [more]
Chris D wrote :
"the situation improved greatly over the last few years to prepare for the Olympics"... uh huh...
Brede wrote :
Don't think it's improving. Just back from Shanghai; 4 days and I never saw the sky once not to mention sun. Pollution hanging so low in air that I could not see the tops of buildings unle... [more]
bjorn wrote ha ha:
wel we can all agree that china su*** ;)
Measures for green Olympics
Thursday, 17 April 2008, Written by Trouni   
"We will do everything possible to honor the promise"
(Du Shaozhong, deputy director of the Beijing's Environmental Protection Bureau)

Beijing announced last monday some measures that will be taken against pollution to bring "green games" to the athletes this summer. The measures will officially be in effect for two months (from July 20 to Sept. 20) and will include:
  • two-months halt of construction (even spray painting outdoors will be banned)
  • traffic restriction to ban half of Beijing's 3.3 million vehicles during the Olympics (Aug. 8-24)
  • 19 heavy polluting factories will be forced to either reduce pollution emissions by 30 percent or stop activity

Since most of Beijing's pollution is due to emissions from surrounding provinces, Du Shaozhong also mentionned that some of these measures will also take effect in five provinces and municipalities around Beijing (Tianjin, Hebei, Shanxi, Shandong and Inner Mongolia).

Olympic athletes (source:

During the press conference, Du Shaozhong also said:
"Just tell everybody they don't have to worry."

Well, I guess athletes and tourists don't have to worry for the games period, but what about Beijingers like me who are still exposed to heavy pollution everyday?

Sources: International Herald Tribune, Aujourd'hui la Chine (article in French)
Frederic Muller wrote solutions:
Wear a mask? ;-)
Frederic Muller wrote no one else care?:
I'm surprised nobody else commented on this. I've been thinking about my short (and stupid) comment to a very serious issue. First there will be more competitions after August 24th, so does ... [more]
Chris D wrote :
Fred, in response to your second post, I think the unofficial or unwritten policy here is people, in general, are expendable. The Olympics brings with it international attention and scrutin... [more]
Frederic Muller wrote :
what a sad world we live in...
Mandy wrote Reader from Hong Kong:
Hi Author, I am glad to know that a foreigner like you, can devote such a large effort in concerning the pollution problem in our China land. I am now undertaking a environmental managemn... [more]