Polish Supreme Audit Office is sounding the alarm bell that Poland has the most polluted air in the European Union. The main cause of this problem lies neither in the industry nor transportation and solving this issue will take years. Should we consider wearing protective masks?
„Current estimates of the joint effects of ambient and household air pollution include an estimated 7 million premature deaths globally each year. (…) In the WHO European Region as a whole, the estimated mortality in 2010 was approximately 600 thous. premature deaths”. Nearly 49 thous. of them occurred in Poland. The Economic cost of premature deaths amounts in Poland to almost 102 bln dollars, which is about 13 percent of Polish GDP at PPP. These and many other data can be found in the report „Economic cost of the health impact of air pollution in Europe” published earlier this year by the World Health Organization/Europe.
According to the report released by Polish Supreme Audit Office (the document is not available in English), „the biggest problem of air quality in Poland is the intolerable level of PM10 and benzo(a)pyrene concentration. (…) While from 2007 to 2008, emission of PM10 pollution came from several sources, in the recent period (2009–2012) the main pollutant (82–92,8 percent) was the low-stack emission”, emitted by small and incredibly inefficient domestic coal boilers and private heating furnaces. The high concentration of particulate matter causes and deepens lung diseases and cardiovascular diseases. In every Polish city controlled in 2013 the concentration of benzo(a)pyrene, which is a highly carcinogenic compound, was exceeded by an average of 500 percent. B(a)P pollution results from individual heating of buildings. „Much less significant causes of pollution were transportation (5,4–7 percent) and industry (1,8–9 percent.)”.
Where should we look for a solution? Polish Supreme Audit Office claims that „it is important to create long-term incentives to replace high-emission coal-fired boilers, not only by providing financial support for the change in the heating system, but also providing a compensation for increased costs of use other than solid fuel energy sources. A protective program providing subsidies covering higher heating costs after replacing a coal furnace was adopted only in Cracow”. From the capital of Malopolska region, we can learn even more. The experiment conducted in Cracow shows that „frequent and intense washing streets has a positive effect on air quality: it significantly reduces pollutants in terms of their quantity and physicochemical composition” (source: Polish Press Agency; English version is not available).
Before we will walk on squeaky clean streets in our cities and see a replacement of home heating furnaces for more eco-friendly devices, we probably should look for another solution that will immediately protect us from inhaling harmful substances. One of the most impressive product comes from Singapore, the city that struggles with air pollution caused e.g. by fires in neighboring Indonesia.
Wearing a protective mask is not a practice assigned exclusively to Asian countries anymore. Polish website Cracow Smog Alert reports that more and more people in Cracow wear protective filters. The problem is that the most of typical masks are available only in one size and do not fit all type of faces. Small gaps make you vulnerable to airborne contaminants such as the transboundary haze, pathogens, and occupational pollutants. Moreover, ordinary masks trap heat and moisture making them stuffy and uncomfortable to wear. Increased CO2 level under the mask links to headaches, breathing difficulty, shortness of breath, changes in visual performance, decreased reasoning and alertness, and increased irritability.
Singaporean engineers focused their efforts on a design that provides better seal protection for all ages and improves breathing comfort at the same time. The main advantage of AIR+ Smart Mask is the superior fit. Designing a mask provided for smaller faces is not a simple scaling down – here critical parameters were taken from 3D scanned faces. With the use of 3D printing, engineers designed prototypes with face shapes and sizes that could fit a wider range of face profiles. AIR+ Smart Mask underwent extensive product development, testing and trial with more than 800 children and adults. In the result, small, medium, and large sizes fit the Asian face profiles, including seven years old children and above.
The second innovation is the built-in Smart Valve. Trial findings from airflow simulations showed that locating the valve on the inside surface of the mask led to an improvement in the efficiency of the valve and therefore breathing comfort. This finding resulted in a built-in smart valve that allows warm and humid air trapped under the filter to escape.
Pushing the boundaries to improve the effectiveness of the Smart Mask was the development of an attachable, lightweight and battery-rechargeable AIR+ Micro Ventilator. This element eliminates the unpleasant build-up of heat, moisture and carbon dioxide inside a conventional mask after a prolonged use. The AIR+ Micro Ventilator can decrease the relative humidity inside the face mask by up to 40 percent and reduce the temperature by up to 4 degree Celsius. Internal CO2 levels are rapidly reduced – average levels drop to 0.08 percent – to minimize dizziness and headaches. For comparison, under a standard N95 mask, CO2 concentration can be up to 3 percent, which is 100 times more than on air.
The AIR+ Smart Mask is recommended for individuals who may be exposed to hazardous air quality conditions, such as dust, small particles, haze, virus outbreaks or volcanic ash. It is also designed for workers whose outdoor jobs expose them to dust and small particles.
The AIR+ Smart Mask is at least 95 percent efficient in filtering small particles down to 0,1–0,3 microns, including haze, volcanic ash, and viruses. For comparison: a human hair is on average from 70 to 80 microns, and human red blood cell is 5 microns in diameter. Dust mite and allergens are 0,1–0,3 microns.
The AIR+ Smart Mask can be used for up to 8 continuous hours or reused intermittently, up to a total of eight hours. The ventilator is powered by a built-in rechargeable lithium-polymer battery. Usage time is up to two hours continuous use, and the average shelf life is up to 1000 battery hours – it can be used 500 times on a two hours use basis. Charging is done via USB.
The AIR+ mask is developed by Innosparks, a member of ST Engineering, which is the only Singaporean company listed on the „World’s Most Innovative Companies List” published by „Forbes”. I found AIR+ mask in March at SingaPlural exhibition which was the part of Singapore Design Week 2015. The AIR+ Smart Mask and the AIR+ Micro Ventilator are sold separately and are available at selected Watsons stores in Singapore.
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