as an accessory, smog masks are right up there with eyeglasses -- most people would rather not need them. But because of this summer's record-breaking pollution levels, retailers are having a hard time keeping them in stock.With 20 smog days so far, including seven smog advisories, this season has already more than doubled the record set in 1995.
According to Ontario's Ministry of the Environment, these numbers don't necessarily represent a trend.
"Smog comes because of weather and wind patterns," says ministry spokesperson Mark Rabbior. "We've had so many smog advisories this summer because it's been so dry. We've had no rain."
The ministry's Web site (www.airqualityontario.com) states that one reason reported levels seem so high is that monitoring methods are getting better.
Ontario Lung Association air quality manager Brian Stocks regards these claims with some scepticism, even though he concedes that testing techniques for both smog levels and asthma disgnosis are improving, which may have an effect on data.
Almost all smog masks on the market are made by one company -- UK-based Respro -- and as a product category they're not subject to standardized testing or regulation, so the Lung Association makes no recommendations about their effectiveness. But consumer demand suggests that they are helpful.
Nancy Kendrew of Urbane Cyclist (180 John, 416-979-9733) -- a passionate air-quality advocate -- recommends a high-end neoprene mask to anyone with asthma or pollution sensitivities.
"We used to stock them just for couriers, but now lots of cyclists are buying them," explains Kendrew. "We've been out of stock more than once this year."
The model Kendrew recommends, the top-of-the-line Techno Gold (2) ($79 at Urbane Cyclist; $60 at Mountain Equipment Co-op, 400 King West, 416-340-2667), filters a broad spectrum of pollutants: hydrocarbons including benzene and pryene, nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide, lead oxide and black smoke; and sub-micron particles including pollen, seeds and irritant and clay dusts. This mask can be used for motorcycling, jogging and walking and comes in black, blue and red.
The Sportsta (4) ($74.99 at Europe Bound, 383 King West, 416-205-9992, and others) offers greater ventilation, making it suitable for outdoor sports. It filters out pollen, dust, irritant dusts and black smoke as well as diesel particles and is designed for jogging, horseback riding, speed walking and mountain biking.
As its name implies, the City Mask (3) ($56.99 at Europe Bound; $65 at Curbside Bikes, 412 Bloor West, 416-920-4933, and Bikes on Wheels Workers Co-op, 309 Augusta, 416-966-2453) is intended for commuter cyclists and couriers. It features a high standard of protection from vehicle exhaust emissions as well as pollen and dust.
While Respro's Bandit Scarf (1) (Europe Bound, $39.99) looks nifty, it doesn't offer full-spectrum protection -- it's best on dust and particles -- so it's a good choice for gardeners.
The one model we found by a different manufacturer is the AirWear Face Mask (main picture) ($27 at Mountain Equipment Co-op). It filters dust and pollen but doesn't deal with chemicals. heavy breathing