Choosing the perfect mask for cycling in the City

Cycling is a mode of transportation that’s growing in popularity and relevance in our Green-Oriented world.

Worldwide, the numbers of commuters forgoing motor vehicles and switching over to bicycles are increasingly growing. While riding a bicycle is a healthier alternative when compared to driving or taking a bus, due to it’s difference in physical activity, the poor air quality in urban settings contradict the benefits. Heavy traffic spews toxic gases and many fine particles which will then enter our respiratory tract eventually. Aerial pollution causes both short and long term damage to our lungs and the upper respiratory tract, therefore, cycling under these conditions will pose problems in the near future. In order to ride safely without inhaling these harmful particles and gases, a protective mask that is capable of filtering the air you breathe is the best solution.

Things to consider:

An ideal mask for cycling incorporates a number of considerations, specifically for cycling, to ensure it’s effectiveness. 

  • Comfort
  • Filtration Capabilities
  • Ease of use
  • Cost

The selected mask should form a tight seal on the user’s face, so as to make sure the air he/she is breathing, will only get in by passing through the filters. The filters must be capable of keeping microscopic particles and noxious fumes, out of the user’s mouth and nose. Wearing the mask shouldn’t inhibit the breathing of the user during vigorous activities, nor should it cause any discomfort to the user. Cyclists will need to breathe harder than pedestrians, high resistance masks (those that are best for filtering the air) increases the strain on the lungs. An ideal mask for riders will be something that balances between both filtration power and breathability.

During a cycling workout, blood is pumped vigorously through our bodies and heat is generated. A mask that traps heat is a major problem, it reduces the intake of oxygen and compromises the ability to breathe easily. Unfortunately, most masks on the market are “heat-traps”.

After a long ride, the mask will be sweaty, damp and dirty, the last thing you would want is to reuse such a mask on your next trip, not knowing what kind of bacteria will be growing in it. The filters should be quickly replaceable and the mask itself should be easy to disinfect.

TOTOBOBO mask in Bangkok

For cyclists, being able to mount and dismount the mask quickly is critical. While riding in traffic, the rider should be able to remove the mask singlehandedly with a single motion and vice versa, to minimize distraction and lost of time. Weight is also another important factor to consider, anything heavy or cumbersome will only make the ride laborious and difficult. Ultimately, the most important factor for commuters, is the cost of the product. For those who rides and needs a mask daily, the masks and it’s filters should be reasonably priced and easy to come by.

Other neoprene masks, like some cyclist-intended masks, are heavy duty equipment that digs a hole in your waller. In addition, they are heat trappers and turn smelly quickly, yet difficult to clean. All the more so, it is larger and troublesome to carry around. It is a product designed for professional looks, but it would be a little too much for a daily user.

Why Totobobo?

While there are a mountain of masks out there, all offering a range of protection, comfort and price, only one provides the balance between the factors that best benefits the user, TOTOBOBO.

Design:

Our mask is specially designed and moulded with a unique material that allows the user to custom fit the mask to their face, help firmly onto the face by a pair of ultra elastic and flexible straps. The straps are made from elastic polymers and is friendly on the skin. One mask fits all and it can be folded up when not in use, comfortably keeping it inside our pockets.

Seal:

The Totobobo Mask forms a snug seal on the user’s face, ensuring air to only pass through by the filters. Unlike other masks, the Totobobo Mask is a master in both high airflow and filtration. The patented body valve design allows low resistance exhalation so that you can easily take in clear air with each breath.

Simplicity:

Most protective masks need to be professionally checked for a proper seal, it is time consuming to do so as well, whereas the Totobobo Mask’s seal can be easily clarified in a short period of time. Both children and adults can get a good fit with it.

Pollutants collected by the filters from China and India

Filter:

Our filters are European designed and of the finest quality, capable of keeping out particulates as small as 0.1 microns. Using static electricity to snag the particles while they enter the filter, the Totobobo Mask keeps out all the toxic particles produced from motor vehicles, industrial exhaust, cigarettes, wood fire and charcoal fumes and also incense smoke. Biological components such as pollen , mold pores, dust mites and cockroach allergens, dust and common soil particles, can be filtered out as well.

Health:

The mask is anti-viral thanks to Biocote, a silver-ion anti-microbial agent, and important property to be taken into account when heat and humidity of the mask’s interior is involved. This way, you can further ensure the cleanliness and safety of Totobobo Masks. The mask is also easy to disinfect using soap and water. Best of all, the entire mask is reusable, all you have to do is to replace the old filters with a new pair and you’re good to go.

Cost:

As for being economical, the Totobobo mask can not be beaten when it comes to the bang for your buck. Compared to leading competitors on the market, our masks are unparalleled when it comes to value. As the chart indicates below, the Totobobo Mask is more cost effective than any of the leading alternatives, same goes for the replacement filters!

Prices comparison

Cambridge Mask The Admiral: USD 28
Vogmask                                      : USD 43
Respro Techno                            : USD 47 …… Filter : USD 34
TOTOBOBO                               : USD 33 …… Filter : USD 1 – 3.5/pair

User Testimonials:

Cyclists worldwide swore by the effectiveness and usefulness of the Totobobo Mask when it comes to riding in inclement environments. Here are some testimonies of a few elated users from around the globe.

Herve and Bonnaveira and Goska Romanowicz of Develotour, discovered an interesting way to measure and visualize air pollution. On a year long bicycle trek across the continent, the couple traveled through several Asian countries. They visited a number of major metropolises and first handedly experienced the respective air qualities. In each locale they wore our masks to protect their lungs from the polluted air. They wrote to us saying:

Goska and Herve on Develotour

“The TOTOBOBO anti-pollution masks came in very useful in India! Weve tested the masks in Delhi, the Indian countryside and Calcuttaused one filter for a days cycling in each placeand we got varying shades of brown.even far from cities and factories the air is very polluted.”

Herve and Goska appreciated the high quality of respiratory safety they enjoyed by using the TOTOBOBO mask on their journey. When they lectured to students along their trip about air pollution awareness, they also informed them of the TOTOBOBO mask�s unmatched quality and value.

Nagaraj Pudukotai of Bangalore, India, test out the Totobobo Mask during his daily commutes to work by bicycle. The air in Bangalore is terribly polluted, within forty five minutes, the filters were already black! Thankfully, the pollutants were trapped in the filters instead of his lungs. He commented :

“It is very effective. It seals your nose and mouth completely, although you can smell intense odors like that of petrol exhaust and diesel exhaust when you are very close to a vehicle, the emissions do not get in your lungs.”

Montgomery Tufeld of New York City regards the Totobobo Mask’s ability as an invaluable thing. Riding around the city on his daily delivery route, he comes across a lot of smog and dust in traffic. Before he started to wear a mask, he would get home everyday with a sore throat and blackened mucus from the soot he had been inhaling. He tried a number of different brands before touching on ours, since then, it has been life changing for him. He stated :

 

“The mask fits better than anything else on the market. It is snug and comfortable, and easy to put on and take off when riding through traffic. I barely notice it is there.”

Choose Totobobo for Safe Cycling!

Around the world, across the globe, cyclists are adding another item to their must have list, apart from protective gear, they added in the pollution masks. If you’re looking for one, don’t hesitate to try out our Totobobo Masks!

 

 

 

 

 

Pollution mask helps cycling in air polluted cities

Pollution mask helps cycling in air-polluted cities.  Cycling as a form of commute, leisure and fitness activity has a long history. The bicycle was invented over a hundred years ago and since then it has been adopted by countries all over the world as a mode of transport. Not many know roads were first paved for bicycle before the introduction of the automobile. Interestingly, many car manufacturers were started as bicycle factories. However, with the growing population of cars, many cities are planned and designed for driving rather than cycling and walking. The car-centric city planning gives rise to traffic congestions and air pollution. Ironically, cyclists are now unfairly affected by air pollution from the smog from cars.

We know cycling used to be very good for health and keeping fit. However, in some cities, serious air pollution devours the urban environment, it isn’t very healthy anymore. That’s why you have to protect yourself from the toxins with a filtering mask while cycling.

With Totobobo, a respiratory mask designed to cut down the smog, you’ll be able to cycle and exercise without worrying about city pollution anymore.

Comfortable, reliable and reusable, perfect for declaring freedom from the air pollution! 

More reviews on Totobobo Masks for cycling! : https://totobobo.com/blog/sports/

Purchase yours here! : https://totobobo.com/shop.html

Can air pollution negate the health benefits of cycling and walking?

To find out more, click here! : https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0091743516000402



Air Pollution Essays

Air pollution has been living alongside out since a long time ago. We have been trying to battle it out but it takes time to completely eliminate this problem. Which is why, for the time being, it is better to protect ourselves while fighting the air pollution. As much as it is important to protect yourselves, it is also important to know what you’re protecting yourself from in order to further enhance your protection.

Here we have, compiled a list of information and studies that are related with air pollution. It is a little wordy but definitely worth your time to read! 

“Inhalation of smoke of firecrackers is very harmful not just to the asthmatic and the elderly but also to health human beings and can cause cough, fever and can also cause acute eosinophillic pneumonia.”

Read More…

“Cyclists should wear an effective air filter mask or better move away from the busy roads.”
Read more…

“What is haze? Where does it come from? What can we do?”

Read more…

“However, that doesn’t mean we are that much better off indoors. In fact, the air in our homes can be far more polluted than the air outside, even in a major city.”

Read more…

“Researchers at the University of Michigan Health System have determined that the very air we breathe can be an invisible catalyst to cardiovascular disease.”

Read more…

“Cyclist! Wear an effective mask, or move away from the busy roads!”

Read more…

“Study linked pregnant women’s exposure to smog and air pollution to lower IQ in their babies. How concerned pregnant women should be?”

Read more…

“Cycling to work may seem the healthy option, but a study has shown that people riding in cities inhale tens of millions of toxic nanoparticles with every breath, at least five times more than drivers or pedestrians.”

Read more…

“Air pollution causes premature death for thousands of people in Hong Kong each year.”

Read more…

“While riding a bicycle is a healthier alternative to driving a car or sitting on a bus because of the physical activity it entails, poor air quality in urban setting counteracts those benefits.”

Read more…

A research published on 13-3-2009 in the Particle and Fibre Toxicology Indicates that wearing a respirator may reduce the risk of heart attack.”

Read more…

“Unfortunately, most buses are powered by diesel engines that actually pollute the air inside the bus. Studies show the pollution gets trapped inside the bus, where kids breathe it in.”

Read more…

“Smoke particles from burning incense were found to cause cancer of the upper respiratory track.”

Read more…

Enough of the tedious information, now lets have a look at how some of our users have enjoyed using our Totobobo Mask and how it has helped them battle air pollution!

“Whatever is on the filters, glad that stuff is not in my lungs!”
John from London, U.K.”

Read more…

“After using it for a more than a month, she was happy with the performance of Totobobo and can really recommend it.”

Read more…

“From my personal experience of using a mask over the last five or six years I would say is particularly effective at preventing infections such as flu and is very good at hayfever prevention and preventing dust from triggering my asthma.”

Read more…

“I can actually smell fresh air when I inhale. I can bike. I can walk outside to buy groceries.”

Read more…

“Wearing a good mask has played its role in sustaining my interest in commuting over the years — so I buy a mask if it seems interesting to me and give it a spin. ”

Read more…

“Since I began commuting to the centre of London where traffic pollution is worst, I started using double 96% filter for my mask.”

Read more…

“Overall, the performance was solid, and is an excellent choice for those concerned about air quality.”

Read more…

“For extended periods of time the mask was comfortable even during the intense workout of a day-long bike ride.”

Read more…

“I’ve been using it for 2 months and I like my job again. It cuts out the general air pollution around but if you’re right behind a truck or similar you still breathe in some gas but if you know how to avoid and dodge that while your riding then this mask really helps.”

Read more…

“Totobobo might not look sturdy but looks can deceiving, if you use it properly the mask last for a long time.”

Read more…

I researched many masks, but still feel Totobobo is the best mask I can get.”

Read more…

“My experience using the mask has generally been excellent, and I have recommended it to many people. Using the mask is very easy. Once it’s on, it is very comfortable and I tend to forget about it.”

Read more…

“We do feel protected – Totobobo Mask sent us specially customized masks for our toddlers.”

Read more…

 

We hope the information provided above has helped you have a deeper understanding into air pollution and how Totobobo Masks are able to fight together with you!

 

First impression of PRO filter

Cycling with PRO filter and SuperCool mask
Ross cycling commute in Los Angeles, California wearing SuperCool mask with PRO filter.

Long time user and Biking attorney,Ross, sent in his first impression about the PRO filter with his customised SuperCool mask:
(Thanks to Ross for permission to share)

Took the PRO filter on its initial bike ride this morning. Very impressed! The new SuperCool mask fit great right out of the box, and breathing with the new PRO filter was great, too. It’s not in any way heavy or restrictive to breathe through. Of course there was a slight resistance, but I actually found that reassuring to know that air was, in fact, going through the filter medium. Just a note to say thanks, and nice job!

I’ll do a more detailed user experience review –and of course send some updated pictures of me wearing it on my commute through downtown Los Angeles, California.

Thanks again,
Ross

Ross is using SuperCool mask since 2010.

Totobobo PRO, the best filter for running

Totobobo PRO is best for running. Lightweight and above 99% filtration efficiency with very low air resistance.
New Totobobo PRO filter is five times larger but it adds only 6 grams to the mask. A slight weight increases for a significant gain in filter power!

Totobobo PRO, the best filter for running

In Totobobo, user’s feedback keep inspiring us to improve. This time we turn our attention at runners.
Running is a physically demanding activity. Training in high level of air pollution can damage the lungs and increase the chances of heart attack and stroke. Running athletes breathe in extra large volume of air and therefore it is necessary to increase the effective filter area in order to capture the large amount of pollutants passing through. However simply increasing the filter and the filter carrier is not an acceptable solution. An early prototype indicates that the weight of the mask will be at least doubled (48 grams). Since we take pride being the lightest reusable mask in the market, doubling the weight is definitely not acceptable.

But how can we increase the filter area without adding weight substantially?

Let’s look at the final result first.

Pro filter is much larger than the old filters
Weight comparison: Totobobo mask (20g) vs PRO mask (26.7g) vs prototype mask (49g)

Miraculously the new Totobobo filter called PRO-filter, is five times larger but it adds only 6.7 grams to the mask. More specifically from 20.1 grams to 26.7 grams, an acceptable small increases for a significant gain in filter power!

The secret is in the patent pending PRO-frame

The secret is in the new, patent pending, PRO frame construction. The PRO frame sits entirely inside and the PRO filter wraps around the frame. Now the effective filtering area is not only the top surface, but also the sides and the bottom. We had the assembled filters tested in certified laboratory. The result was exciting – above 99% filtration efficiency for both salt (dry) and oil particles, with very low air resistance.

PRO mask vs standard Totobobo mask

While developing product improvements we are careful to minimize the environmental impact as well as protecting our loyal user’s investment in Totobobo products. Previously users can keep using the same filters (F96, F94 F92) during the last two upgrades of mask body. This time existing Totobobo mask (since 2014 version) users will be happy to know that they can upgrade to PRO by simply changing out the old filter.

This means you can keep running, enjoy using your very own customised Totobobo mask, while sizing up your protection against air pollution even in the most demanding days.

Furthermore, this upgrade is reversible, you can switch back to old filters during the less demanding days. Don’t throw away the old filter covers and the small rubber rings, they will be useful when you want to change back.

Totobobo Mask Pro-filter upgrade from totobobo on Vimeo.

Totobobo PRO, the best filter for running

Letter from Dr. Anil Simhadri, a loyal user of Totobobo mask since 2010

From Dr. Anil Simhadri, a cyclist commuter in London: “From my personal experience of using a mask over the last five or six years I would say is particularly effective at preventing infections such as flu and is very good at hayfever prevention and preventing dust from triggering my asthma.”

Dr. Anil Simhadri with his Totobobo mask and bicycle in front of the Buckingham Palace in London
Dr. Anil Simhadri with his Totobobo mask and bicycle in front of the Buckingham Palace in London

I was very happy to receive the first letter from Dr. Anil Simhadri back in 2010. He explained how Totobobo mask helped him to continue to cycle in London, dispite the traffic smog and his condition of asthma.
Recently I ask Dr. Simhadra about his long term experience and I was very gratefult to receive a very detail account of his expereince. I think this is very useful for new users as a reference of how Totobobo mask can be applied in different situation and for multiple purposes. Thanks Dr. Simhadri for the permission to publish the letter.

————————————————
From London, U.K. Novemebr 4th, 2016
————————————————
Dear Francis,

My situation is different because my lungs have always been quite weak. I had Whooping cough as a child and this had affected my lungs. Whooping cough can destroy the “cilia” or tiny hairs along the bronchus/brochioles and this can make it difficult to clear mucus. This means people like me are more prone to infections or flu or other respiratory tract infections.

As a child I used to get through a chest infection every winter. In addition to this I also suffer from hayfever and asthma. I knew when I saw your mask in 2009 that this concept was likely to be a success. Having tried previous masks I immediately knew when I tried your mask that this concept was likely to be a winner.

Currently I find your totobobo mask particularly useful for me for a number of situations:

1) Preventing flu: currently it is flu season in the UK and everyone on the underground seems to be coughing or sneezing. Since the underground is very congested I always use the mask during rush hour. During rush hour one can find yourself packed in like sardines and virtually kissing the other man or woman next to you. If they have the flu then your almost certain to get it unless you are wearing (totobobo) mask. I do remember on your website saying that even F92 filters prevent aerosol droplets from entering your lung. Best of all is to avoid the underground entirely and cycle instead. This way you eliminate the risk of contracting infection and also improve your aerobic lung capacity.

2) During hayfever season in the summer when the pollen count is high outside I get allergic sinusitis or rhinitis. Wearing the mask helps prevent this.

3) Preventing transmission – When I do have a cold like last month I always wore the mask when I was handling my young son who is 6 months oldnas I did not want him to catch anything from me. So this mask help prevent transmission of infection to other family members.

4) When doing spring cleaning the house is very dusty. Since dust mites can worsen my asthma.

Dr. Anil Simhadri with his Totobobo mask and bicycle in front of the Birmingham Palace in London
Dr. Anil Simhadri with his Totobobo mask and bicycle in front of the Buckingham Palace in London.

5) When cycling to avoid air-pollution from trickling triggering my asthma. .
Overall for me the mask has been very useful because whooping cough has left me with a weak lung which meant I was much more prone to chest infections. Secondly I have a lot of allergy problems with hayfever , asthma and dust mite allergy.

From my personal experience of using a mask over the last five or six years I would say is particularly effective at preventing infections such as flu and is very good at hayfever prevention and preventing dust from triggering my asthma.If I am in a dusty environment for let’s say 20 minutes I will start to get wheezing and one can hear this on my chest if one listens with a stethoscope.If I then put on the Totobobo mask and stay there for another half an hour in the dusty environment my wheezing will disappear by about 60/70%. So clinically thats a 70% improvement in breathing after wearing the mask for half an hour. Similarly with hayfever. With preventing infections it is difficult to prove.

When I go to India the problems are even worse because pollution there is about five times more than it is here in the UK. For me the Totobobo is a real lifesaver in the dusty polluted environments of Mumbai or Delhi in India. Thanks for all your help.

Regards,

Anil Simhadri
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3 months air pollution captured on Totobobo filters & cost of air pollution (World Bank)

Totobobo filter lungs
“Totobobo filter lungs” showing air pollution captured in 3 months of cycling and taking Underground.

“Whatever is on the filters, glad that stuff is not in my lungs!”
John from London, U.K.

John sent us his used filters after 3 months of using Totobobo mask for cycling and taking the Underground in London. He was shocked to see the dirty filters, much in the same way as Claire’s account of her experience of using our mask. At an individual level, increased level of fine particles, or PM2.5, was found to be responsible for triggering heart attack and respiratory diseases.

In hindsight, both John and Claire were smart to do something to reduce their exposure to air pollution. A recent study, jointly conducted by the World Bank and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, estimated that 5.5. million lives were lost in 2013 to diseases associated with outdoor and household air pollution, which has emerged as the deadliest form of pollution and the fourth leading risk factor for premature deaths worldwide. While pollution-related deaths mainly strike young children and the elderly, these deaths also result in lost labor income for working-age men and women. The cost to the economy is substantial. Through the lens of “welfare losses” across age groups, the aggregate cost of premature deaths was more than US$5 trillion worldwide in 2013.

The infographic below is from the World Bank site. It shows the substantial burden of air pollution, strengthening the economic case for action. As you read the infographic, think about what will you do to reduce air pollution.

Air pollution costs money and lives, World Bank and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation
Air pollution costs money lives, World Bank and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (image credit: World Bank)

Przemek from Poland

przemek
url: http://instagram.com/p/VfPCWwAZQ3/

Always happy to know that Totobobo mask make it possible for a person to continue using bicycle even when the air pollution gets worst. Through words of mouth, Totobobo mask is now selling to over 50 countries. Poland is a relative recent phenomenon.

Przemek Maciolek from Cracow, Poland sent us the following in 2012-12-16:
“Cracow, while beautiful, is one of the most polluted cities in EU (I believe that during the winter the air quality is even worse than London). Few months ago I started using bicycle for commuting and cannot look back for any other option. Cycling is just so right from a number of reasons. (editor:YES!!)

But now, we have winter here, and the pollution levels are many times over the dangerous zone. You can pretty much feel you are breathing toxic fumes… I needed to find a solution – that would allow me to cycle to work, but keeping me safe at the same time.

I was considering many options… but almost every review I have found was pointing to Totobobo. Even if this wasn’t my first choice, I gradually changed my mind and decided to try it. I am very curious of the results. Will be happy to share my opinion as a user in few weeks. Thanks!”

After 10 months of using Totobobo mask, we received another mail from Przemek:

“My first Totobobo was bought year ago and it came with ear loop rather than the headstrap (as I ordered it). I used it quite a few times and thought that it would be nice to replace the ear loop with headstrap accessory for this winter and buy another one for my daughter. ”

Thank you Przemek!

Why Totobobo SuperCool mask sucks? Traffic fume!

SuperCool pollution mask helps cyclist and motorcyclist to fight traffic fume
SuperCool pollution mask helps cyclist and motorcyclist to fight traffic fume

Cyclists and Motorcyclists! If you are looking for a pollution mask that really sucks, your long awaiting search has come to an end. The new pollution mask from TOTOBOBO, called SuperCool mask, is designed to suck more, traffic fume that is leaving only the clean air for your lung. Its high efficient filter keeps the nasty nano-particles out and doesnt diminish the oxygen you pull in with each breath.

The SuperCool is the worlds first pollution mask with the nose uncovered. Such unexpected feature brings surprising advantages. First of all, exhaling through the nostrils will never fog up your glasses. Having the nose free means you can clear your nose while protecting your lungs a necessary edge when racing traffic or just cruising through town. according to Francis Chu, a cyclist and the designer of SuperCool. You can even switch between nose and mouth breathing instantly when riding through alternate clean and polluted area no need to stop to remove or put on the mask.

Whereas other masks require intense scrubbing to keep them clean, the TOTOBOBO can be washed and dried within minutes. Your breathing gear will no longer have a funky film of week-old bacteria. Even if you do, the SuperCool is easier to clean than the dishes in your sink. The rest of your cycling gear can be smelly and gross, but at least the one that covering your face should be kept cleanand odor free. Oh, and germs? No worries. The SuperCool is embedded with anti-microbial Silver ion inside out so nothing can grow on it.

The SuperCool mask is customizable to fit your face as need be. This helps to keep the best fit and seal. It also prevents your roommate or sibling from borrowing it and getting it covered in their germs.

The only way the TOTOBOBO SuperCool doesnt suck is the SSS-look – Sleek, Slick and Slim, a far cry from other protective masks which look like the gear of a Storm-trooper from Star Wars. The SuperCool is small enough to fold into your pocket and weighs next to nothing (18 grams). It will slide under any helmet and leave plenty of rooms for glasses or goggles.

Best of all, the TOTOBOBO SuperCool mask is reusable, just replacing the filters as it turns grey. The SuperCool mask and filter are now available at totobobo.com. You will even get a free reusable pouch for carrying the mask!

About Totobobo:
Totobobo is the world’s first customizable respiratory mask designed to fit both adults and children. It has been sold to over 35 countries. Totobobo mask uses patented technology that ensures comfort and good protection from pollutants.
Totobobo is a trade mark of Dream Lab One Pte. Ltd.

Related:
What Ross has to say about Totobobo mask?

Protect your lungs when riding in the city

More advanced features of TOTOBOBO mask

How to customize TOTOBOBO mask to fit your face?

12 useful features for cyclist

How to clean TOTOBOBO mask for reuse?

Buy TOTOBOBO mask

Can cycling and walking be bad for your health?

Can air pollution in urban area cancel the health benefit of cycling? What can you do to avoid the downfall?


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Dear EarthTalk: I ride my bike to work along busy urban streets. Should I be worried about inhaling pollutants from vehicle emissions and other sources?

— J. Kaufman, San Francisco, CA
Aside from the obvious physical safety considerations (especially when talking on a cell phone!), biking on highly trafficked roads exposes riders to considerable amounts of fine particles, nitrogen dioxide and volatile organic compounds spewing out of tailpipes

Aside from the obvious physical safety considerations (especially when talking on a cell phone!), biking on highly trafficked roads exposes riders to considerable amounts of fine particles, nitrogen dioxide and volatile organic compounds spewing out of tailpipes.

The short answer is, yes, probably. Cars, trucks and buses emit considerable amounts of airborne pollution as they make their ways along city streets and highways. The fine particles, nitrogen dioxide and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) spewing out of tailpipes have been linked to a wide range of human health problems, from headaches to respiratory illness to cancer. Though Australian researchers found that exposure to these pollutants is actually higher while riding inside a vehicle than while riding a bike, turning your handlebars in the direction of back roads might still be a good idea, for safetys sake as well.
Western Washington University Geophysicist Bernie Housen, concerned about the air quality on his own bicycle commute along busy Bellingham roads, recently launched a study of the magnetism in local trees to gauge air quality along his route and elsewhere in his region. The magnetism in a trees leaves is created by tiny particles of iron oxides and other pollutants that drift through the air, emanating primarily from eroding vehicle brake pads and diesel exhaust. The particles are small enough to pass through our nasal passages and get lodged in our lungs. Housen and his colleagues found 10 times as much magnetism on urban roadside tree leaves as on their rural counterparts that contend with little traffic.

Housen has also altered his own bike route to campus to avoid the more polluted thoroughfares. One underlying concern is that if you are riding your bike, you are being more physically active; you are breathing deeper and breathing more air in, and so if you are doing that in an area where there is a concentrated elevation of this material it might not be such a good thing, he added.

Ironically, many cities that offer dedicated bike lanes often lay them out right next to busy bus lanes, unintentionally ensuring that bicyclists breathe in as much diesel exhaust as possible. I ride along one of these high-traffic bus routes, Housen says, and there was between two and five or six times more magnetic fine particulate matter along the bus route than [on less-busy streets]. Housen would like to expand his research so it could be used by urban planners to better design bike and pedestrian routes so as not to intermingle so much diesel transit and pedestrian/bicycle traffic.

Of course, there are other ways to track urban pollution levels. In the UK, for instance, researchers from the government-funded Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council have created the Urban Pollution Monitoring Project, which builds and distributes GPS-enabled mobile pollution sensing systems that can be carried by hand or placed on a bike rack. The group is using data gleaned from the sensors to map where and when pollution levels are at their highest around London and other UK cities, and hopes to use its research to influence the way roads and urban areas are planned in the future as well.

Those who want or need to keep on riding through polluted areas should consider wearing an anti-pollution respiratory mask, many of which can filter out upwards of 95 percent of particulate pollution before it enters the human lung. Some leading manufacturers include Totobobo, G-Flow and Respro.

CONTACTS: Urban Pollution Monitoring Project; Totobobo; G-Flow; Respro.

EarthTalk is now a book! Details and order information at: www.emagazine.com/earthtalkbook.

GOT AN ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTION? Send it to: EARTHTALK, c/o E/The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; submit your question at: www.emagazine.com/earthtalk.html; or e-mail us at: earthtalk@emagazine.com.