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Fighting Particle Pollution and its Deathly Impact with a high tech N95 Mask

Dust pollution in India

Fighting Particle Pollution and its Deathly Impact with a high tech N95 Mask

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By Bidisha Mahapatra


Fighting Particle Pollution and its Deathly Impact with a high tech N95 Mask

The Omnipresent Dust: A Silent Killer


Dust as a Prominent Pollutant:


Dust is a prominent air pollutant in India, with street smog becoming a major threat to the human lungs. The human body has various defense mechanisms to deal with the dust we breathe in, but in some cases it can become overwhelmed if dust particles are small enough or in sufficient numbers. The Central Pollution Control Board claims that air quality in India is bad enough to affect healthy people and “seriously impact those with existing diseases”. And the “prominent pollutant” being microscopic harmful particles in the dusty air we breathe. There are increasing instances of people falling sick and experiencing trouble breathing due to the high levels of air pollution in the nation.

air pollution near the ocean

Health Impact of Dust Particles:


Human health effects of dust relate mainly to the size of dust particles. Dust may contain microscopic solids or liquid droplets that are small enough to get deep into the lungs and cause serious health problems. Large particles may irritate the nose, throat and eyes. The particle size is a major determinant of how serious the health effect will be, especially for lung and heart diseases. Naturally occurring particles like microorganisms, such as pollen, fungi and in certain circumstances bacteria and viruses (such as from wastewater or someone sneezing) may also cause health issues.


Particulate matter (PM) and its Complex Mixture:

What is Particle Pollution?


It refers to a mix of tiny solid and liquid particles that are present in the dust particles that we breathe. Many of the particles are so small that they are invisible, but when levels are high, the air becomes opaque.


Size is an important factor:

Scheme of PM2.5 and PM 10

Particles themselves are different sizes. Some are one-tenth the diameter of a strand of hair. Many are even tinier; some are so small they can only be seen with an electron microscope. You can only see the haze that forms when millions of particles come together and blur the spread of sunlight.


Researchers categorise particles according to size, grouping them as coarse, fine and ultra fine. Coarse particles fall between 2.5 microns and 10 microns in diameter and are called PM 10-2.5. Fine particles are 2.5 microns in diameter or smaller and are called PM2.5. Ultra fine particles (not shown) are smaller than 0.1 micron in diameter and are small enough to pass through the lung tissue into the bloodstream, circulating like the oxygen molecules themselves.


Long-term exposure to coarse particles can result in significant health problems including:

  • Increased respiratory symptoms, such as irritation of the airways, coughing or difficulty breathing
  • Decreased lung function
  • Aggravated asthma
  • Development of chronic respiratory disease in children
  • Development of chronic bronchitis or chronic obstructive lung disease
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Nonfatal heart attacks
  • Premature death in people with heart or lung disease, including death from lung cancer


PM 2.5 v PM 10:

Small particles less than 2.5 micrometers in aerodynamic diameter (called PM2.5) pose the greatest problem because they can get deep into the lungs and into the bloodstream.  They do not get rejected by the body through coughing or other natural processes. The particles come from industry such as foundries, and diesel engines. Those that are smaller than 10 micrometers in aerodynamic diameter (called PM10) can also cause serious health effects in susceptible individuals if the concentration is high enough.


Why is the mixture of mixtures dangerous?

The differences in size make a big difference in where particles affect us. Our natural defences help us to cough or sneeze some coarse particles out of our bodies. However, those defences do not keep out smaller fine or ultra fine particles. These particles get trapped in the lungs, while the smallest are so minute that they can pass through the lungs into the bloodstream. Because particles form in so many ways, they can be composed of many different compounds. Therefore the mixture of mixtures in dust can have a long lasting health impact.

Mapping of air threat levels in India

Mapping of air threat levels in India


PM 2.5 in India: A major health hazard


India recorded the world’s highest annual average concentration of PM 2.5 exposure in its air according to the State of Global Air 2020 report released on October 23, 2020. India has been recording an increase in PM 2.5 pollution since 2010, said the report. The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB)’s 2019 report indicates that the national average PM 2.5 concentrations has recorded a rising trend in the past three years owing to an increasing number of vehicles on the roads and re-suspension of natural dust.

Toxic mixtures, gases and their effects on respiration

Particulate Matter (PM) and Wildfire Smoke:


Particulate Matter is a complex mixture that may contain soot, smoke, metals, nitrates, sulfates, dust, water and tire rubber. It can be directly emitted, as in smoke from a fire, or it can form in the atmosphere from reactions of gases such as nitrogen oxides or fine particulate matter pose the greatest problems because they bypass the body’s natural defences and can get deep into your lungs and potentially your bloodstream.

Dust in the country side

What is Photo chemical Smog?


Photo chemical smog is a brownish grey haze caused by the action of solar ultraviolet radiation on atmosphere polluted with hydrocarbons and oxides of nitrogen. It contains anthropogenic air pollutants, mainly ozone, nitric acid, and organic compounds, which are trapped near the ground by temperature inversion. These pollutants can affect human health and cause damage to plants. Photo chemical smog often has an unpleasant odor due to some of its gaseous components.

Chemical pollution from industries



The Atmospheric Impact of Photo chemical Smog:


Photo chemical smog appears to be initiated by nitrogen oxides that are emitted into the air as pollutants mainly from internal combustion engines. Absorbing the visible or ultraviolet energy of sunlight, it forms nitric oxide (NO) to free atoms of oxygen (O), which then combine with molecular oxygen (O2) to form ozone (O3). In the presence of hydrocarbons (other than methane), certain other organic compounds, and sunlight, various chemical reactions take place to form photo chemical smog.


Ground-level Ozone : a Byproduct of Combustion:


Ground-level ozone is formed when volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and oxides of nitrogen (NOx) react with the sun’s ultraviolet rays. The primary source of VOCs and NOx is mobile sources, including cars, trucks, buses, construction equipment and agricultural equipment.

Ground-level ozone reaches its highest level during the afternoon and early evening hours. It is a strong irritant that can cause constriction of the airways, forcing the respiratory system to work harder in order to provide oxygen.


It can also cause other health problems including:

  • Aggravated respiratory disease such as emphysema, bronchitis and asthma
  • Lung damage, even after symptoms such as coughing or a sore throat disappear
  • Wheezing, chest pain, dry throat, headache or nausea
  • Reduced resistance to infections
  • Increased fatigue
  • Weakened athletic performance


Dust pollution in Indian cities

Outdoor Air Pollution and Cancer:

Air Pollution as a Primary Carcinogen: World Health Organisation


(IARC) of the World Health Organization has declared that outdoor air pollution is group 1 carcinogen and that it is “carcinogenic to humans”. This is the first time that the scientists have evaluated the air people breathe for its cancer-causing potential. IARC has also separately evaluated particulate matter as a component of outdoor air pollution and classified it as class 1 carcinogen.


It has found clinching evidence to suggest that particulate matter increases risk of lung cancer.  IARC said 223,000 lung cancer deaths occurred worldwide in 2010 owing to high rates of outdoor air pollution. In its release, WHO-IARC has noted that this evaluation is based on the review of more than 1,000 scientific papers from studies on five continents, taking into account the carcinogenicity of various pollutants in outdoor air pollution, especially particulate matter and transport-related pollution. Outdoor air pollution is now in the same bracket as other deadly cancer-causing substances, including tobacco, asbestos and ultraviolet radiation.


national cancer institute


WHO Warning and Prevention:


Scientists have cautioned that the latency period of cancer risk is long. It takes 15 to 20 years for this toxic effect to surface. This demands urgent and immediate intervention to prevent exposure early in life to reduce risk.  Social and economic cost of cancer is humongous. Currently, there are no separate mitigation strategies for air toxins in India except some efforts to control toxic components of fuels like benzene, poly cyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) and aromatics.


But the explosive number of vehicles is negating all effects. In mega and big metro cities, including Delhi, Kolkata and Bengaluru, air quality data indicate unacceptable levels of benzene, PAH and heavy metals. Even the road dust and natural dust are no longer benign as the toxic fume from tailpipes and combustion sources settle on them and they become toxic carrier to lungs.


The First and Foremost Preventive Measures: A Good Breathing Mask 

Why a high quality anti-pollution mask?


While there is not much we can do about the pollution levels we can still avoid being harmed by the particulate matter in our air by using good quality air masks. Over the counter surgical masks are meant to help contain the wearer’s bacteria and viruses from getting out and are not helpful for preventing air pollution hazards. However a good air pollution mask can protect its wearer from suspended particulate matter (10 or 2.5), sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide.



AIRE Masks: Revolutionizing the Face Mask Technology in India:


An esteemed unit in Auroville called AIRE, have been producing reusable air-filter masks including both the N95 and N99 type with 6 and 8 filtering layers respectively. AIRE mask is the most effective anti-pollution mask with an advanced respiratory device which acts as a barrier against chemical and biological impurities, toxins and pollutants.


The organisation has pioneered research to bring about a healthy lifestyle change in countries like India where pollution is a primarily threat. The technical innovation makes it the ideal mask to protect from virus transmission as it uses  PP (Polypropylene) filters with 6 layers that have very small porosity (2.5 microns). It is the ideal mask for daily use in hot areas, cities and outdoor activities, especially in the current context of the pandemic.





When we breathe in dirty air, we bring air pollutants deep into our lungs, so it’s no surprise that air pollution causes serious damage to the respiratory tract. Air pollution exposure can trigger new cases of asthma  and provoke development or progression of chronic illnesses including lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and emphysema. Combating this menace with a high quality anti-pollution mask is the top priority.


AIRE masks are unique as they concentrate on producing quality products that protect our lungs from all kinds of air pollutants, bacteria and common viruses. The mask is designed to be a light and face airtight with adjustable ear loops and nose clip making the mouth a hermetic zone to prevent bacterial infection. The masks have been tested and authorized by the Indian National Laboratory of Ministry of Labor as one of the most effective anti-pollution preventive in India.




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