Jun 12, 2023 - Health

Experts say to use N95 over medical masks for bad air quality

Haze above Detroit last week. Photo: Samuel Robinson/Axios

Some Detroiters used medical masks left over from the pandemic last week in light of the air quality advisory, but experts say respirator masks are actually best for protecting your lungs from smoke and dust.

The intrigue: When masking for poor air quality, you're trying to protect your lungs from the air — when masking for COVID-19, you're protecting the air from you.

  • Experts say the 3M 8511 and 3M 8210 disposable N95 respirators are the best and most available.

Why it matters: Wayne County Health Director Abdul El-Sayed tells Axios that bad air days like the ones we had last week bring a real risk of exacerbation for people with asthma, chronic illness or who are pregnant.

  • "When it is a bad air day, people should limit their exposure, take extra precaution, and wearing masks could be part of that, but really it's just avoidance."

What we're watching: As greenhouse gasses continue to warm the planet, events like these will become more frequent and severe, Michigan's Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy said in a release last week.

  • "It's kind of hard to say if fires like these will happen again since these smoke plumes are so unpredictable," Alec Kownacki, a meteorologist at the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, tells Axios.
  • "Two summers ago fires up in northern Minnesota impacted the Upper Peninsula, but they didn't really mix down towards the Lower Peninsula area too much. So Michigan has been impacted by wildfires before, but even then up in the UP, they were as high as numbers as we're seeing now."
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