Stuff common face masks with tissue to filter tiny dust in a pinch, research finds

national January 17, 2019 01:00

By The Nation

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AS HIGH-quality facemasks to protect against dangerous smog are in short supply, research found that common facemasks with several levels of additional tissue papers or a folded handkerchief inside may suffice to protect Bangkok residents from small airborne dust particles.



A foreigner wears protective mask to avoid air pollution in Bangkok. // EPA-EFE PHOTO

The research, which is being widely circulated on social media, was conducted by Chiang Mai University biochemistry and clinical chemistry researchers Professor Usanee Vinijketkamnuan and Khanittha Punturee in 2008.

It found that a normal face mask plus tissue papers or handkerchief stuffed inside could screen as much as 75 to 90 per cent of dangerous airborne dust particles smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter, known as PM2.5.

The high-quality facemasks recommended by authorities can screen as much as 87-96 per cent of PM2.5, the research found. These include masks of 3M 8210, N95, and 3M 9002A standards.

Without the additional stuffed tissues or napkin inside, however, a normal facemask can screen only 48 per cent of small particulates. 

A hanky won’t work

Home-made masks made from cloth or a handkerchief, however, cannot offer wearers any protection from small particles. 

The research also found that a high concentration of dust particles badly affects lung cells, alveolar cells and white blood cells, causing them to die. 

Without any mask, the particles can kill as much as 40 per cent of alveolar cells, while high-quality masks including 3M 8210, N95, and 3M 9002A can reduce that number to 20 per cent. 

However, a normal face mask with or without stuffed tissue papers, cannot protect alveolar cells from the dust particles, the research shows.

Meanwhile the government has warned the public not to panic. 

PM2.5 are 25 times smaller than a hair’s width and can enter the lungs, causing respiratory problems. 

Still, the public should not panic, warned Department of Health Deputy Director-General Dr Amporn Benjaponpitak.

People can protects themselves, by wearing two layers of normal facemasks, she said, if they cannot find any N95 facemasks for sale in stores. 

Amporn also recommended that city dwellers avoid outdoor activities and stay indoors, especially in the morning when the amount of airborne dust is most severe. She also warned against wearing a common facemask and an N95 mask at the same time as the combination may obstruct breathing.

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