Take the 2-minute tour ×
Bicycles Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for people who build and repair bicycles, people who train cycling, or commute on bicycles. It's 100% free, no registration required.

In Toronto when the temperature goes above 30 degrees Celcius (90 degrees Farenheit), for a few days and without wind, there is smog.

I find the smog irritates and makes it difficult to breathe in through my nose. Worse, if I breathe in though my mouth instead of my nose then it hurts my bronchial tubes.

A related question is, Is pollution a problem in urban cycling? - which says that it is a problem, but doesn't ask whether a mask or other anti-pollution measure is effective.

Might a mask help me for this situation, i.e. breathing on the hottest days? Are they effective and are they usable? If so what type or brands or models should I look for?

share|improve this question
2  
possible duplicate of What should I consider when buying a respirator? –  ChrisW Jul 8 '12 at 18:37
4  
Not a duplicate -- this question asks if the masks are effective, a question not really raised in the other thread. –  Daniel R Hicks Jul 9 '12 at 22:32
    
+1 this question is the real deal! Just to share something my ecology teacher told me: how to decide if you are taking a significant amount of pollution. If you feel a bad taste in your mouth, then yes, if not, then maybe. –  Vorac Jul 16 '12 at 10:11
1  
Hey, I was wondering if you made a decision on this? I know the answers can lead you off the idea of buying a mask, specially Daniel's answer, who says it really doesn't make much difference in terms of reducing the amount of pollution. But I still would want to know if it helps, at least a bit, reducing the soar throat and irritation. Did you try any at the end? Thanks for posting question. +1 –  luchomolina Sep 23 '12 at 1:03
1  
@luchomolina, I recently purchased a Respro Metro mask. Observations: (1)heats the air like a scarf: perfect for the winter, but will probably not be good for summer (2) when I take it off, when among traffic, the air smells differently. It is possible that it works. –  Vorac Nov 20 '13 at 17:39
add comment

2 Answers

To answer this question (which is different from asking "Which mask?") you have to define what "pollution" means and then examine the available masks to see if they do anything to reduce it.

Just offhand, I believe that "pollution", in an urban traffic setting, consists of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide (and various other sulfur compounds), nitric/nitrous oxide (and various other nitrogen compounds), and soot (which contains a significant amount of unburned hydrocarbons). (Lead used to be a significant component of exhaust but is no longer, with unleaded gasoline.) Of these, only the soot is really "visible", while the sulfur and nitrogen compounds can contribute to "yellow haze".

A simple filter mask will remove only the soot (if that). You need a mask containing at least a reasonable layer of activated charcoal (ie, a canister) to remove much of the others. The masks I see advertised just have a thin layer of "activated charcoal cloth" or some such, not enough to make a noticeable difference.

I was unable to find any evidence of rigorous testing of these masks anywhere -- by the manufacturers or independent bodies. They do test for particulate filtering, but that's of minimal value, and, besides, you can buy (much) cheaper particulate filters if you skip the "pollution" moniker.

share|improve this answer
    
I have tried a builder's mask with a single canister ... and it was suffocating. What do you think about those masks, that have two canisters in parallel (I think spray paint workers use them)? –  Vorac Nov 21 '13 at 8:26
    
@Vorac - I've never tried them, but I seriously doubt that they could work for someone engaged in strenuous cycling -- to much restriction. Might work for more casual cycling. –  Daniel R Hicks Nov 21 '13 at 11:48
add comment

I get this question once in a while (working in Danish Cyclist Federation). It seems to be based on the idea that commuting by bike will expose you to more pollution than commuting by car. I have seen no research that proves this. However, I have seen research indicating that the opposite might be true. Some was in danish, but here's some in english and french (links to pdf's at the end of this article): http://www.pollution-china.com/Blog/More-exposed-to-pollution-in-a-car.html

You should also consider the possible danger of wearing a mask while being physically active. There has been little research in this field that I'm aware of but there could be a risk of creating negative pressure by obstructing the airway which has been known in some cases to produce pulmonary edema. We (again Danish Cyclist Federation) sent some masks to some danish specialists who concluded that the risk was very small, but since pulmonary edema is a very serious thing, I still want to lead your attention to this. Maybe you can find some research (I would be interested to hear about it).

Also keep in mind that if the research on "in-car pollution" vs "on-bike pollution" cited above is true it is much more important for car drivers to consider wearing a mask than it is for bicycle commuters.

On top of this comes all the additional beneficial factors that bike commuting produces.

Happy cycling.

share|improve this answer
1  
This also ties into the "pollution gradient", where the pollution is most intense low down between the wheels of the line of cars, and reduces more or less linearly away from that area. So the air intakes of cars are right in the zone, and cyclists are in a less intense area. But in heavy traffic it's still really bad. (sorry, no reference to hand) –  Kohi Jul 9 '12 at 22:43
    
The research article link was dead on the site I reffered to. Here you go: socoolinc.com/media/In-car-pollution-report.pdf –  zob Jul 11 '12 at 15:42
1  
One thing to consider on bikes vs. cars is that cars will spend a significantly shorter amount of time in traffic for most trips (unless you are in a very dense urban area). –  Jonathan Dec 11 '12 at 0:09
    
I wouldn't worry too much over pulmonary edema. Sure, its possible, but considering the other risks associated with urban cycling I'd put it waaaay down on the list. I spent years performing extremely heavy exercise wearing masks, respirators, mixed gas equipment, etc. at various altitudes in the Army and over time interacted with a few thousand people this way (granted, most of them were in good shape) and never encountered a single case of pulmonary edema. Claustrophobic reactions and misplace mammalian reaction to sudden cold, sure, but that's mere discomfort and trainable. –  zxq9 Apr 9 at 1:36
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.