Do pollution masks really work? How cyclists are trying to filter out the filth

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They’re ubiquitous now on London’s streets: cyclists who look like they are heading to a Batman-themed party dressed as arch-villain Bane, or as though they’ve been shopping in one of Soho’s kinkier sex emporiums. Sometimes, these same bike-riders then post photos on Facebook or Twitter, showing how their white filter has turned slate grey thanks to the capital’s dirty air. As concerns grow about air quality, the mask is going mainstream.

As a cyclist, I worry that some of the benefits of exercise are being undone by my inhalation of pollutants, especially nitrogen dioxide and microscopic particulate matter: PM10s and PM2.5s (they’re essentially tiny particles of tar that mainly come out of diesel engines). According to research published by King’s College London last month, 9,416 premature deaths could be attributed to air pollution in 2010. But will a mask stop me developing the lungs of a consumptive 19th-century poet?

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