Fashionable face masks: ‘Trying to make something horrific seem appealing’

–Written by the Guardian newspaper

Manufacturer Meo and New Zealand fashion designer Karen Walker collaborated on these reusable face masks with air filters. The interchangeable covers can be matched to the wearer’s outfit.

As Australia’s air quality plummets, demand has spiked for reusable anti-pollution masks that are effective and fashionable

Sydneysiders Elias Honor, his brother Isaac and their childhood friend Jack Graham had a vision of selling Australia’s air to the world.

The company they founded, AusAir, have made high-end anti-pollution face masks featuring filters infused with Australian botanicals such as eucalyptus and Tasmanian lavender. In shades of shell pink, black and grey, AusAir’s masks have a soft yet utilitarian aesthetic – like something you might find on the Starship Enterprise.

After winning a series of student entrepreneurship awards, the trio’s masks are set to go on sale for the first time this month. But rather than being a pristine fantasy for those in polluted metropolises overseas to inhale, Australia may become an important market for the fledgling company.

A model wears an anti-pollution face mask prototype from AusAir. Photograph: AusAir

A model wears an anti-pollution face mask prototype from Aus Air.
A model wears an anti-pollution face mask prototype from AusAir. Photograph: AusAir
As unprecedented bushfires continue to rage across Australia’s eastern and southern coasts, towns and cities across the country have recorded multiday stretches of hazardous air quality.

Will wearing a face mask protect me from bushfire smoke? – explainer
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Across the eastern and southern coasts of Australia, bushfire smoke has shut down businesses and major events and led doctors to warn of lasting health consequences.

Hardware chain Bunnings has air-freighted in hundreds of thousands of face masks and respirators from international suppliers in order to keep up with demand. While many consumers are visiting their local hardware stores in order to acquire PM2.5 filtering face masks, others are looking online for a more comfortable, longer-wearing and stylish solution.

As air quality worsens, premium reusable face masks are a growing accessory category worldwide. In China and India, lifestyle bloggers review them as they would a new nail polish shade or handbag.

In Sydney, Scott Mitchell was an early adopter. He purchased an anti-pollution face mask online on 3 December. “My friends would tell you that I am very quick to … jump on a fad,” he says. “The idea of buying a mask appealed to me because it seemed very dumb at the time.”

Mitchell took strange pleasure in researching his purchase. “It’s quite funny to get into the very small world of fashion face masks because the websites are trying to make something that is horrific seem quite appealing … There is a certain Blade Runner-y feeling of embracing our fashionable dystopia that I enjoyed.”

Eventually he settled on a respirator from Cambridge Mask Co. At A$48 plus shipping, the mask is lower cost than many other designer masks. Mitchell found the brand’s extensive range of colours and prints appealing too, although his first choice – a shade of deep teal – was sold out.

Models adjust colourful masks from Cambridge Mask Co.

Cambridge Mask Co’s chief operating officer Nina Griffee explains that the range of colours isn’t about creating a product that’s “fashionable”. She says fine particle-filtering face masks can look quite militaristic but “by adding colour you can convince a five-year-old to wear a mask.” The masks were originally developed for residents of highly polluted cities, where “you don’t have one mask you have three or four,” says Griffee. When wearing a face mask is commonplace “it’s nice if it matches your coat”.

As the days of poor air quality stretched on across swathes of eastern and southern Australia, what started as almost a joke became “really handy and helpful” for Mitchell. Those who’d mocked him started to see sense in his decision. People even asked him for advice on social media, where he’d shared photographs of himself wearing the mask.

‘I look like a ninja’
Around the time Mitchell was making his purchase, Katherine Brickman, who also lives in Sydney, was suffering from “a smoker’s cough that turned into a respiratory infection” and realised “I needed some way of commuting to work without getting sick”.

Brickman consulted with a co-worker – “a real fashion kid” – who was already wearing a mask, and then researched the health recommendations that had come out during the California wildfires of 2018. She decided there was “no point in wearing one that’s not comfortable”, and eventually bought a mask from Swedish company Airinum. She describes their website as “the Apple store of face masks”, and says she found their extensive fit information and video tutorials particularly persuasive.

Airinum masks start at US$69. Brickman says “the one I got was slightly pricey, but I felt I could justify that cost because I can wash it and reuse it”.

–Written by the Guardian newspaper

More than 90% of the world’s children breathe toxic air every day

Every day around 93% of the world’s children under the age of 15 years (1.8 billion children) breathe air that is so polluted it puts their health and development at serious risk. Tragically, many of them die: WHO estimates that in 2016, 600,000 children died from acute lower respiratory infections caused by polluted air.

A new WHO report on Air pollution and child health: Prescribing clean air examines the heavy toll of both ambient (outside) and household air pollution on the health of the world’s children, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. The report is being launched on the eve of WHO’s first ever Global Conference on Air Pollution and Health. 

It reveals that when pregnant women are exposed to polluted air, they are more likely to give birth prematurely, and have small, low birth-weight children. Air pollution also impacts neurodevelopment and cognitive ability and can trigger asthma, and childhood cancer. Children who have been exposed to high levels of air pollution may be at greater risk for chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease later in life.

“Polluted air is poisoning millions of children and ruining their lives,” says Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “This is inexcusable. Every child should be able to breathe clean air so they can grow and fulfil their full potential.”

One reason why children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of air pollution is that they breathe more rapidly than adults and so absorb more pollutants.  

They also live closer to the ground, where some pollutants reach peak concentrations – at a time when their brains and bodies are still developing.

Newborns and young children are also more susceptible to household air pollution in homes that regularly use polluting fuels and technologies for cooking, heating and lighting 

“Air Pollution is stunting our children’s brains, affecting their health in more ways than we suspected. But there are many straight-forward ways to reduce emissions of dangerous pollutants,” says Dr Maria Neira, Director, Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health at WHO.

“WHO is supporting implementation of health-wise policy measures like accelerating the switch to clean cooking and heating fuels and technologies, promoting the use of cleaner transport, energy-efficient housing and urban planning. We are preparing the ground for low emission power generation, cleaner, safer industrial technologies and better municipal waste management, ” she added.

Key findings:

  • Air pollution affects neurodevelopment, leading to lower cognitive test outcomes, negatively affecting mental and motor development.
  • Air pollution is damaging children’s lung function, even at lower levels of exposures
  • Globally, 93% of the world’s children under 15 years of age are exposed to ambient fine particulate matter (PM2.5) levels above WHO air quality guidelines, which include the 630 million of children under 5 years of age, and 1.8 billion of children under 15 years
  • In low- and middle-income countries around the world, 98% of all children under 5 are exposed to PM2.5 levels above WHO air quality guidelines. In comparison, in high-income countries, 52% of children under 5 are exposed to levels above WHO air quality guidelines.
  • More than 40% of the world’s population – which includes 1 billion children under 15 –  is exposed to high levels of household air pollution from mainly cooking with polluting technologies and fuels.
  • About 600’000 deaths in children under 15 years of age were attributed to the joint effects of ambient and household air pollution in 2016.
  • Together, household air pollution from cooking and ambient (outside) air pollution cause more than 50% of acute lower respiratory infections in children under 5 years of age in low- and middle-income countries.
  • Air pollution is one of the leading threats to child health, accounting for almost 1 in 10 deaths in children under five years of age.

WHO’s First Global Conference on Air Pollution and Health, which opens in Geneva on Tuesday 30 October will provide the opportunity for world leaders; ministers of health, energy, and environment; mayors; heads of intergovernmental organizations; scientists and others to commit to act against this serious health threat, which shortens the lives of around 7 million people each year. Actions should include:

  • Action by the health sector to inform, educate, provide resources to health professionals, and engage in inter-sectoral policy making.
  • Implementation of policies to reduce air pollution: All countries should work towards  meeting WHO global air quality guidelines to enhance the health and safety of children. To achieve this, governments should adopt such measures as reducing the over-dependence on fossil fuels in the global energy mix, investing in improvements in energy efficiency and facilitating the uptake of renewable energy sources. Better waste management can reduce the amount of waste that is burned within communities and thereby reducing ‘community air pollution’. The exclusive use of clean technologies and fuels for household cooking, heating and lighting activities can drastically improve the air quality within homes and in the surrounding community.
  • Steps to minimize children’s exposure to polluted air: Schools and playgrounds should be located away from major sources of air pollution like busy roads, factories and power plants.

Full report

BreatheLife air pollution campaign:  BreatheLife is a partnership of WHO, UN Environment and the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-lived Climate Pollutants that aims to increase awareness and action on air pollution by governments and individuals. www.breathelife2030.org

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