Inexpensive cloth masks offer little protection against air pollution, a new study suggests.
Many people in Asia wear disposable surgical masks or washable cloth masks to protect against small air pollution particles.
But tests on different types of masks showed that “the most commonly used cloth mask products perform poorly when compared to alternative options available on the market,” according to health scientists at the University of Massachusetts, in Amherst.
“This has clear public health risk,” study co-author Richard Peltier said in a university news release. People may have a false sense of security when wearing cloth masks, especially in areas with high levels of air pollution, he noted.
Plain cloth masks were “only marginally beneficial” in protecting people from the smaller airborne particles that are especially harmful to health, Peltier said. He is an assistant professor of environmental health sciences.
“Millions of people probably wear these masks and feel safer, but we worry that this is potentially making things worse, if they stand next to a diesel truck and think they are protected by the mask, for example,” Peltier said.
The researchers found that cone-shaped cloth masks and snug-fitting surgical masks offered better protection than looser-fitting masks.
The study was recently published in the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology.
The American Lung Association has more on air pollution and health.