Mask Testing: Doing It The Right Way

(UPDATE April 2014: please read my new review of three mask tests.)

As a family doctor, I strive to keep my patients and my community healthy by sharing informed, evidence-based advice — in clinic and via my writing. Wellness and prevention are my favorite topics, but I’ve become known more for my air pollution articles. I’ve recently been sharing the world’s best research about masks and was disappointed with the sparse information out there, still unable to offer useful advice on the same authoritative level as I could recommend an antibiotic for pneumonia or a diet tip for prediabetes. So I decided to get mask data myself, organizing with a NIOSH-certified company in California to fit-test at least 40 of the most common brands of masks. I wanted to give the world a scientific, objective, Consumer-Reports type of graph which showed the results, and everyone — especially parents — could finally have a credible source to help make important health decisions about masks.

But since starting this campaign a few weeks ago, I’ve had many discussions with my colleagues in medicine and in public health, and they generally agree that while my intentions are noble, and while this information truly is relevant and important, some of the specific details of my project may not make the final report as scientifically rigorous and as useful as I would have hoped. A truly influential and useful report ideally would be initially vetted by a team of researchers and doctors, using independent funds and getting published in a peer-reviewed journal.

After these discussions, I’ve decided to put my project on hold for now, while I aim to get more professional collaboration with others in order to get even more valuable, trusted results. If I cannot achieve a higher standard, I will stop the project entirely, and everyone who has generously donated money and supplies will get a full refund.

With my writing, I’ve always skirted an amorphous border between consumer-level advice and peer-reviewed consensus, topped off with a bit of humor and gentle opinions. But this mask testing is a much more ambitious project, and it’s important to get it right.

I hope I can still get this data, otherwise we’re back to square one. But given all the recent press coverage of this project, at least I’ve helped give this important subject some international exposure. Hopefully other people and organizations are inspired by my cause and are already working on their own projects. Let’s all work together to get the research we need.


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One thought on “Mask Testing: Doing It The Right Way”

  1. A sensible move, especially as the research would not have carried any relevance to the other components of pollution namely VOC’s Acid gases like NOX and S02 and O3 (low level ozone)

    Any testing would have highlighted the flaws of the program, ie they are only being tested for particles. The majority of masks being produced are only designed for filtering particles and the fashionable pollutant of the day is ‘Particulate Matter’. Next year it will be Nitrogen Dioxide, the year after that it will be VOC’s, after that Low level ozone. History has an uncanny ability of repeating itself.

    To take out the chemicals you need a charcoal layer not just active carbon but a good grade of Activated Charcoal. Its not used in most masks as it is expensive. And expensive isn’t the order of the day. The Totobobo mask does not have any at all, neither do most of the other masks on the market. Some 3M masks are available with activated charcoal as is another brand Respro®

    As you can see only part of the pollution story is being played out here and not the whole story.

    The project is a much bigger project than imaginable.

    I applaud your withdrawal.

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