New South Wales is currently suffering through a severe smoke haze, as strong winds spread bushfire smoke across the state. While many have turned to filtered masks for protection against the pollution, not all masks are effective in protecting against smoke inhalation. For the best protection, you'll need a P2 mask — the kind usually worn by builders.
After stepping out in Sydney on Tuesday, it will feel like you have smoked three packets of cigarettes – at once.
The streets are blanketed in thick smoke, the sky is orange, the smoke is seeping into buildings and residents are struggling to breathe.
What is a P2 mask?
A P2 mask, otherwise known as a PR respirator, is a mask designed to filter fine particles from the air, and is mostly used to reduce the transmission of airborne diseases, and on building sites to protect against harmful chemicals.
Bushfire smoke carries PM2.5 particles, which are harmful particles made up of components that can include nitrates, sulphates, organic chemicals, metals, soil or dust particles, according to the NSW Health department.
P2 masks have the ability to filter out this smoke, and provide protection against particulate matter for wearers.
As you travel throughout your day, you may notice people on the streets wearing masks more akin to doctor's masks, or those worn by a surgeon.
Unfortunately, there's no scientific evidence that these masks actually protect against pollution or particulate matter, meaning that they're not going to do much for you in the current smoke haze.
P2 masks are the only masks that come highly recommended by health professionals, although you'll need to know how to fit it right for the best protection. When fitting a P2 masks, it's important to ensure that the fit is secure, as this will help to reduce the inhalation of particulate matter.
In a statement provided to Lifehacker Australia, NSW Health Director of Environmental Health, Dr Richard Broome stated, "A P2 mask does filter out these particles, but is only effective if there is a good fit and an air-tight seal around the mouth and nose.”
It's important to fit and check your P2 mask properly before heading out to ensure as much effectiveness as possible. NSW Health provides a step-by-step guide on correct fitting of the masks here.
As of Monday morning, ongoing bushfires have continued to devastate Australia. At least 24 people have died, many are missing, and roughly 4.9 million hectares and one thousand homes have been destroyed in New South Wales, one of the hardest-hit states. The fires have also ravaged the lands of national parks and impacted the air quality of major cities like Sydney. Here's what you can do to help.
Where can I buy a P2 mask?
A P2 mask can be bought from any major hardware store, including Bunnings, Officeworks and Blackwoods. Stores like Mitre 10 may also stock P2 masks in store, but their website is currently sold out due to high demand.
For those wishing for a more stylish option, there are P2 masks available from Amazon, but keep in mind that you'll have to wait longer for delivery if you'd like one.
As we prepare for one of Australia's most severe pollution and bushfire seasons, it's important to keep yourself safe with the right equipment. Before heading out to purchase a mask, make sure you're buying the right one.
3M Consumer has a handy safety infographic about P2 masks below:
New South Wales and Queensland are in the grip of a devastating bushfire emergency, which has tragically resulted in the loss of homes and lives. But the smoke produced can affect many more people not immediately impacted by the fires – even people many kilometres from the fire. The smoke haze blanketing parts of NSW and Queensland has seen air quality indicators exceed national standards over recent days.