My adorable son is now four months old, still a tiny bundle of joy. I look forward to us venturing outside, but what if the pollution is bad? What pollution guidelines should we follow when kids are playing outside?
One major debate is choosing when to keep your children inside. I think a good baseline is an AQI cutoff of 200, assuming no protective masks would be worn. Children’s lungs are still developing until around the age of 18, and as they breathe much deeper than usual when exercising, it potentially causes more damage.
Since I last wrote about air pollution for beijingkids in October 2012, there was a very interesting new study published (tinyurl.com/cs34r6f), which provided the best evidence so far that wearing an N95 mask does indeed reduce air pollution’s unhealthy effects. They tested people walking around major roads in Beijing and had half of the group wear a N95 mask by 3M. Those who wore this mask had improved blood pressure as well as heart rate variability.
I think this and other studies (tinyurl.com/c2ehnsv) should convince parents to consider buying masks for their children, especially when air pollution levels are over 200 AQI. The key is to use a real N95-rated mask. N95 means that mask is US-certified to filter out 95 percent of particles (PM) smaller than 2.5 microns. This means if the AQI is a crazy-bad 500, your mask is filtering 95% of that. But you must find a mask that is rated N95, not just a cotton mask or even just a blue surgical mask.
The other major issue here is fit. Even a small amount of air leaking around the corners makes any mask basically worthless. Unfortunately, there is no easy answer as to the best brand and model for kids. 3M’s N95 rated masks are considered the first choice “gold standard” in research tests. April Gourmet, Jenny Lou’s and many other places sell them, as do all of BJU’s clinic pharmacies. The 3M company has a child size, but I have only seen this in the US. Many parents have tried Totobobo masks (totobobo.com), as they can be cut to suit children’s faces. Others have tried Respro, but their own blog (t.cn/zTacDrc) doesn’t recommend any of their models for children under 11. Others seem to like the Vogmask series as they are comfortable for smaller faces.
However, many parents report varying degrees of success for all of these. But don’t fret, as I am personally aware of at least two companies feverishly working on children’s masks.
If your child is planning any overnight trips or camping adventures, I think it’s wise to give them a good air pollution mask just in case. And if their day trip plans come into question because the air is bad, you don’t always have to cancel their fun – consider having them wear a mask while they play. I know this entire idea of wearing masks is very tiresome, and even controversial, but as parents, it’s our moral responsibility to safeguard our children’s health while living in China.
Photos from creativecommons.org
This article originally appeared on p25 of the beijingkids June 2013 issue.
Check out the PDF version online at Issuu.com