smoke mask
Image: Smoke mask pollution / Shutterstock

As the smoke around Victoria continues to persist, you might be looking at options to protect your lungs.

Construction or surgical masks could seem a quick and simple fix, but don’t be so sure.

Dr. Chris Carlsten, director of the Air Pollution Exposure Laboratory at the University of British Columbia, told CBC News that loose-fitting masks can actually hurt more than they help.

“They don’t really have a tight fit, and they increase the resistance to breathing,” said Carlsten. “So you actually have to breath harder to get the air in because of, effectively, that barrier.”

“By doing that, you’ll breathe deeper and get things in deeper,” he said.

“Masks are not substitutes for respirators”

Worksafe BC’s Wildfire Smoke FAQ makes a similar point.

“Masks are not substitutes for respirators,” it reads. “Something like a surgical mask that is loose fitting and does not form a tight seal with the face… [is] not designed to filter the fine particulates or gases and vapours in smoke.”

“If workers use respirators for protection against wildfire smoke, they must be fit tested and meet the standards (e.g., NIOSH-approved) for the type of work and hazards faced,” it continues.

What to do instead

Greater Victoria’s air quality is currently at the “Low Risk” level, which means that for most people, going outside is completely safe.

However, if that level increases to moderate or high risk, make sure to follow the government guidelines below.

Air Quality Health Messages
Screenshot via https://weather.gc.ca/airquality/healthmessage_e.html

You can also try to find a large, air-conditioned building such as a mall or movie theatre. Most of the time, such buildings have commercial-grade air filtration systems.

Home air-filters and car air filters can also be effective as long as you ensure that they’re not working over capacity.

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