If you’ve ever been riding in traffic and wondered “is this car exhaust bad for me?” you’re not alone… and yes, it is. I went on a search for a good air pollution mask that would work with my cycling glasses and helmet and found a few good options. I even invented one of my own. My favorite is the Totobobo from Singapore.
Thanks to the introduction of Andreas from London Cyclist Blog, I got in touch with Claire , she was looking for a better pollution mask to cycle in London. Claire want to use Totobobo mask to help her to cut out the air pollution during her daily 12 mile commuting. After using it for a more than a month, she was happy with the performance of Totobobo and can really recommend it.
Here is Claire’s detail report:
At the beginning of April I was suffering with a sore throat that was worse in the morning and evening – a trip to see my GP confirmed that it was a reaction to London pollution that I was sucking in during my 12 mile commute twice a day.
I had previously and sporadically used a Respro mask which is the only anti-pollution mask that I’ve found in the UK – but I used it sporadically because it has several big drawbacks for me:
My experience of using Respro mask
1. The mask itself is pretty big on a girl’s face and can chafe my skin. It’s like wearing a muzzle and covers most of my face, plus the velcro is very strong and keeps getting caught in my hair.
2. Even using the ‘sports’ filter makes it exceptionally difficult to breathe in sufficient amounts of air when going at speed, leaving me heaving like a fish out of water.
3. The amount of condensation produced inside the mask is incredible – after a couple of miles at a decent pace, my nose felt as though it was submerged, and when breathing hard, condensation was projected out of the mask – when going fast it occasionally splattered all over my shades!
So, in desperation I emailed the London Cyclist blog and asked Andreas if anyone had any ideas about alternatives – then he put me in touch with Totobobo.
Totobobo sent me 2 different masks, the Classic and the SuperCool – both made of very lightweight soft rubber with 2 small round white filters that sit on either side of the face. The masks come with instructions on how to cut the rubber to suit your face – initially I was a little concerned about cutting too much of my Classic away, but eventually after much cautious trimming I fashioned a mask that covered my mouth and nose and felt comfortable.
Riding home with it on was interesting – people in London are generally used to seeing cyclists wearing Respro masks and resembling Darth Vader, but here I was looking as though I had forgotten to take off my surgical mask. I got loads of odd looks and questions about how good it was.
The answer is that I highly recommend Totobobo (apart from the name, which is impossible to make anyone understand whilst actually wearing it!). When I got home I checked the filters and was amazed to see that even in 30 minutes the pristine white had turned to sludgy grey – I am quite horrified by this amount of pollution in London – I only wear each pair of filters for 2 or 3 days, by which time they are nearly black. With the Respro mask, until you’ve worn it for a couple of months you just don’t see any change of colour and probably don’t replace the filter when you should.
There is a little condensation produced by both the Classic and SuperCool, but the SuperCool doesn’t cover your nose, so there’s even less with that one. The thin straps fit behind your ears and afford a surprisingly secure fit and there’s a alternative strap that fits both masks but is a little more complicated than just fitting around your ears.
There are also different filters – a matrix filter and 2 different grades of particulate filter – 94% and 96% – both are easy to breathe through and the 96% gives a slightly higher grade protection from particulates.
So, in summary, buy a Totobobo and breathe easy – I’ve discovered just how horrifying London pollution is, and I value my lungs. Since I have been using my Totobobo my sore throat has disappeared – that makes me happy!
On March 22, 2011, Michael Romo purchase a Totobobo SuperCool mask from our site. At that time he told us:
“Hello, I’m looking forward to bringing this mask to work with me because I am a bicycle messenger in Los Angeles and the aerial pollution here is very bad. As long as we have to live in a world where our cities are full of noxious gas automobile pollution, I have to make adjustments so I can earn a living. It is ironic that we can send robots to Mars but we can’t transport ourselves from place to place without spewing poisonous gas into people’s faces. It’s really sad. I appreciate your product though and hope it works well for me. Thank you, Mike.”
Now two months after receiving his SuperCool, Mike wrote to us again:
“I got my mask and it works really well. I bike messenger in los angeles and after 5 years I almost had enough of the smog and couldn’t stand it. 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. I also like that it covers part of my face. Now I’m like a ninja slicing my way through this toxic nebula. My job is fun again! Thanks, Mike.”
Isn’t this beautiful? This is the kind of direct user feedback that make us believe in what we do. Thanks you, Mike!
Erika Hansen, an Industrial design student from New Zealand, researched the use of respirators for cycling and running. Throughout her research Erika concluded the key challenge of respiratory protection design is to create a mask that people want to wear. She also listed a few additional challenges:
We invited Erika to take a look of our SuperCool and see how far it match her ideal design of a respirator mask.
After trying the SuperCool mask, following is what she has to say.
“I have to say, the SuperCool looks neat! It’s petite, slim and foldable for easy transportation. The transparency has a friendly feel but its only once you put it on that you realise how unobtrusive the SuperCool really is, to look at and wear.
Being a petite woman, the Supercool was a little long for me, which put pressure under the nose and excess material under the chin however it can be simply trimmed down with scissors. The instruction booklet enclosed with the mask could be improved if it clarified this attribute with a series of diagrams. The embossed website address confuses which way up the mask should be worn. My interpretation was that you would wear the mask with the text upright so it was readable, positioned under the chin. However the form of the mask suggests that it is designed to be worn up the other way, with the text under the nose. A clear visual in the instruction booklet could demonstrate this and save users from trimming the ends only to find that it’s upside down. However the ability for the user to create a custom fit, simply with a pair of scissors is great.
At first the SuperCool can take a bit of effort to put on but, unlike other masks I’ve experienced, you can whip it off with ease, without feeling like your being strangled by the tangled mess of straps.
On testing the super cool I have to say I was rather impressed! With personal design experience in the area of respiratory masks I can appreciate how challenging it is to design a mask that users not only feel comfortable enough to be seen wearing but actually enjoy wearing! The SuperCool will definitely benefit users who feel at all claustrophobic in half face masks that cover the nose.
I do have questions about the performance of the mask when it doesn’t cover the nose. For exercising it could be a good solution as most people tend to breathe through the mouth however this wouldn’t necessarily be the case for other users such as allergy sufferers. There is potentially a compromise in the performance of the Supercool as there is no seal around the filters however users can easily remove the covers and replace the filters themselves when required.
The SuperCool is surprisingly comfortable. I could happily wear it for a few hours at a time and occasionally become unaware of it. After half an hour of use I was left with light indents on the face but I view this as assurance of a tight seal rather than a down side.
It’s great to see that the SuperCool is latex free, a huge plus for latex allergy sufferers! The SuperCool appears to be a great mask for those wanting personal protection from particles and due to the size it would make a great travel companion should unexpected situations arise where you would benefit from low level respiratory protection against particles.”
Thanks to Erika’s feedback, we’ve improved the instruction of the SuperCool mask and made the possibility to trim the mask more clear.
Regarding the orientation of the mask, some users achieved a better face-seal while wearing the mask in the upright orientation. Others find the upside down orientation is better. This has also been expained in the instruction sheet.
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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.
“This simple intervention has the potential to protect susceptible individuals and prevent cardiovascular events in cities with high concentrations of ambient air pollution.” stated in the website.
The research study:
The research was led by Dr. Jeremy Lingguish of the Centre for Cardiovascular Sciences, Edinburgh University. The team consist of experts from Centre for Environmental Health (The Netherlands), Institute of Occupational Medicine (UK) and Fuwai Hospital in Beijing, China.
The randomised controlled study involves 15 volunteers walked on a predefined city route in Beijing. The subject exposed to ambient air pollution and exercise was assessed continuously using portable real-time monitors and global positional system tracking respectively. Cardiovascular effects were assessed by continuous 12-lead electrocardiographic and ambulatory blood pressure monitoring.
The mask-wearing group result might have been affected due to poor mask-to-face fit. Despite this, the mask-wearing group demonstrated least affected by exposure to air pollution.
Exposure to fine particulate air pollution is known to associated with increased cardiovascular morbidity, but it is not clear how this happens.
In another experiment, Magnus Lundb ck et. al developed a simple non-invasive method of assessing arterial stiffness and apply the method to demonstrate exposure to unnoticeable among of diesel exhaust can indeed increase arterial stiffness. This is possibly the best way to explain the link between air pollution and heart attack.
The team from Sweden and UK discovered that men exposed to small, unnoticeable concentration of diesel exhaust (350 ug/m3) increased the augmentation pressure by 3 mmHg and augmentation index by 8 %- indicating an increase in arterial stiffness. In a patient with established hypertension or coronary artery disease, small changes in central aortic pressure may be sufficient to trigger an acute cardiovascular event (e.g. heart attack, or stroke)
A point to note is PM concentrations can regularly reach levels of 300 ug/m3 and above in heavy traffic, occupational settings, and in the world’s largest cities.
Mohit from India recommends Totobobo mask. His has been using his trusty Totobobo mask for the last 10 years!
Thank you Mohit!