As Polish cities become increasingly polluted, Poles are taking to respirator masks. WBJ talked to Mateusz Jasiński, founder and owner of Dragonmasks, which is well positioned to take advantage of the emerging market
Interview by Beata Socha
WBJ: This winter we᾽ve hardly had a week without a smog alert in at least one Polish city, not only in the largest agglomerations that have long been known to be polluted but also a number of smaller cities and towns across the country. Have you recorded an increased interest in respiration masks?
Mateusz Jasiński: Indeed, lately the problem of air pollution in Polish cities has received a lot of media attention. Unfortunately, the problem has always existed but was barely noticed. In fact, it wasn’t until the Polish Smog Alert and its campaigns that people became aware of the problem and started looking for solutions. As awareness increased, so did the demand for products that protect people from the dangerous consequences of living in a polluted area. That’s why there is now greater demand for masks, particle absorbing plants and air purifiers.
When did you establish the company?
We’ve had smog masks in our offer for three years, but Dragon masks are a new project. Our company employs people who are physically active all year round and that is why we decided to create our own anti-smog product that would fit our criteria. We realized that for some people, wearing a mask is a necessity. That’s why, apart from a high-quality filter, a mask should be well fitted and aesthetic. During the winter months, it practically becomes part of your outfit.
Until recently, wearing a mask wasn’t a very common occurrence and people who wore them were subject to curious looks. That’s why we have created two mask models: the more subtle one for everyday use and the sporty one typically used by people who spend their time actively.
How are the casual and the sports masks different? Who are they for?
Casual masks are intended for everyday use for people who are not particularly active, both children and adults. They are made of cotton and have a single exhaust valve and a replaceable N99 filter. They are comfortable, subtle and ideal for commuting to and from work, school and for walks. The sports masks are made of neoprene and are designed for people who are more active. They have two exhaust valves and a replaceable N99 filter. You can do sports in them; however, it may take a little time before you get used to breathing through it – as is the case with any respirator mask. The choice of an anti-pollution mask is a very individual matter. It needs to fit your face perfectly to provide protection. We have plans to expand our collection each season with new models.
What exactly do these masks protect us from?
They protect us from many pollutants, especially PM10 and PM2.5 particles. These particles are so small they can easily get to our lungs. It is the valves and the filter that determine how effective a mask is. Our filters have been tested by the Central Institute for Labour Protection – National Research Institute, which ensures that our masks protect against 99 percent of PM1, PM2.5, PM4 and PM10 particles. Exhaust valves are also an important part of the design: you need to check how they are attached and the quality of the membrane so that air is sucked through the filter and not through a leaky valve.
A person wearing a mask is almost a daily occurrence in many Asian cities. Do you think that Poles’ perception of the issue will also evolve, and will wearing a mask become something natural?
It’s true that even last year a person wearing a mask on the street was an unusual sight. This winter, however, due to the wide media coverage, air pollution masks in the most polluted cities in Poland have become commonplace. Seeing a person wearing one also gives us a stimulus to think about the threats that increasing pollution brings and perhaps it will make us realize that we are to a large degree responsible for the air quality around us.
What is the air quality of Polish cities compared to other European cities?
According to WHO reports, Poland is, unfortunately, high up on the list of the most polluted places. We alone are to blame for that. The awareness of the threat is growing, as is the will to effect change. We all hope that the energy policy of our country will finally take into account the smog problem and provide real solutions.
Do you think that the air quality will start to improve at some point?
We believe that the air quality will remain unchanged for the time being, but at some point it will start to gradually improve. It will take a long time though. In the meantime, we need to continue to demand action, e.g. remove bureaucracy and facilitate the installation of gas heating systems. There are plenty of houses in Poland that still use old coal-fired heaters. They are largely responsible for the air pollution. We need to continue to press the matter further and never stop fighting for our air quality.