U Student Markets Masks to Filter Air, Make Breathing Safer, Healthier

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Warren Beecroft is a healthy student. He loves to bike outside, even in cold weather. But then he was diagnosed with bladder cancer. While he thought he was being healthy, exercising in polluted air actually made him more prone to getting tumors.

Beecroft, a senior in environmental and sustainability studies and geography, is now cancer-free, but he wants to help others stay healthy, so he is selling filtration masks for breathing on bad air quality days. He received $11,900 from the Sustainability Campus Initiative Fund, funded by student fees, to purchase 1,000 masks. Students can purchase one for $5 at the Sustainability Office in the Business Classroom Building with a valid UCard (up to three at a time).

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While these masks, some of which have the U logo on them, might seem a little “outlandish,” as Beecroft said, they can safeguard your health, particularly when exercising on inversion days.

“When you are using your respiratory system more intensely, air pollution will actually go deeper into your lung tissue and embed itself permanently,” he said. “It’s kind of a sick joke that when you try to be healthy … you actually end up becoming more sick and more impacted by it.”

Poor air quality can cause respiratory problems, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, strokes and chronic obtrusive pulmonary diseases (such as emphysema). In 2012, the World Health Organization estimated that seven million people died because of air pollution exposure. Vogmask, the company Beecroft worked with to design and purchase the masks, sells fashionable masks that protect against PM 2.5 particles, dust, germs and pollen.

The masks do not make it easier to breathe, Beecroft said, because you are breathing through layers of a filtering membrane. But they do make a difference. Emerson Andrews, SCIF coordinator for the Sustainability Resource Center, used the mask while biking and walking around campus, and felt like he was breathing cleaner air.

“You’re not taking in as much nastiness,” he said.

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Andrews had to get used to breathing through layers of material, as well as the strange stares he got from people.

“From my perception, people see it as a statement,” he said. “When you wear them, you’re saying, ‘Hey, there is a problem.’ ”

He thinks the movement is catching on, and the 100 or so people who have purchased the masks have already been excited to protect themselves and their families. Beecroft said the U has been supportive of the project from the start, especially because it helps with the Clean Air for U initiative that encourages students and employees to use alternative forms of transportation to cut down on emissions.

c.webber@dailyutahchronicle.com

@carolyn_webber

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