B.C. wildfires: Do masks protect you from the smoke?

Click to play video: 'Air masks: How effective are they?'
Air masks: How effective are they?
Tue, Aug 8: Just how effective are face masks to protect you from smoky air and hazy skies? Kristen Robinson investigates – Aug 8, 2017

With much of the province experiencing smoky skies, some feel the need to wear a medical mask or other barrier to prevent breathing in toxins from the smoke.

But experts say there’s no evidence that masks work and they might even make the situation worse.

“There’s no point in wearing a surgical mask during smoky conditions,” Dr. Sarah Henderson, senior environmental health scientist with the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, said. “It won’t do anything for you. Regular surgical masks aren’t designed to filter out very small particles and the smoke is mostly composed of very small particles.”

WATCH: B.C.’s smoky skies

Story continues below advertisement

Dr. Don Sin, head of respiratory medicine at St. Paul’s Hospital, says surgical masks can potentially make things worse.

Breaking news from Canada and around the world sent to your email, as it happens.

“Underneath this mask, they’re breathing quite heavily and fast, meaning they will be exposed to more harmful particles than if they had not worn a mask,” he said.

Sin recommends N95 masks for anyone who works long hours outdoors. A properly fitted N95 mask can block out 99 per cent of harmful haze.

“N95 masks are the gold standard because it has a special filtering device inside the mask that weeds out not only the big particles that we can see but even the small particles.”

Still, smoky skies are driving some to use masks, even if health officials have said they don’t work.

Inácio Deodoro da Silva walks 10 kilometres a day and says he felt he should do something.

“I have never in my life used a mask until this morning,” he said. “I’m really hoping that this will lift off and we can all breathe better.”

– With files from Kristen Robinson


Sponsored content