Last year (December 20th, 2011), during Manila’s heavily trafficked Christmas season, I took a tricycle to go to Shaw MRT Station in Mandaluyong. The whole ride was only 6.2km and it wasn’t even peak hour yet. Because the tricycle passenger cab is somewhat in direct reach of car’s exhaust fumes and I don’t like how that smells (who does, really?), I decided to use a Totobobo anti-pollution mask.
When I got home, I compared the used mask with a new one, just to see how much gray matter was filtered out. I guesstimate that 25% of the filter was used. The result was pretty shocking for such a short 20-minute trike ride!
Late last month, I went on a 50-some kilometer bicycle ride around Metro Manila, passing through the Makati CBD, MOA/Pasay City, Malabon, Quiapo and eventually ending up in Binondo. I was out approximately 8 hours — pedaling on the road in perhaps 5 of those said hours.
In the distance I saw the clouds hanging over the skies. They were a gloomy gray, sort of like Gotham City if it were real. It looked like it was going to rain, but they weren’t rain clouds. It was smog. Traffic wasn’t that heavy, but there were a lot of large vehicles near the pier area that might have contributed to additional fumes.
Guess how my brand-new-filter mask looked like at the end of the day! Do you see that area around the filter with the dots? That’s the CLEAN part of the filter! OMG! So much pollution, it’s crazy. I am just so glad that it’s on the filter pad instead of in my lungs.
I admit, I’m not one of those people who tends to wear a pollution filter mask. It seems dorky and obtrusive. No matter how minimalist it can be; like the Totobobo for example, it just doesn’t look right. It just ends up looking like a Calvin Klein-esque gas mask. When I’m in Manila, however, I’ve learned to pack up a mask even though I don’t initially plan on using it.
What I like best about the Totobobo is that you don’t have to keep buying a new one once it’s dirty. The mask comes with changeable filters of different strengths depending on what you need. I use the basic 92% anti-pollution filter, but it goes all the way to 96%. That’s more fine than what medical professionals use for surgery. Remember those 3M masks people wore during the SARS outbreak? Those are N95.
It’s made out of a silicone-ish plastic-ish material that conforms well to the shape of your face. Easy to wash and sterilize. If you wear it correctly, it forms a sort of suction so there aren’t any gaps for unfiltered air to come in.
The SuperCool, which is targeted at cyclists and other outdoor sports enthusiasts, only covers the mouth so that it prevents fogging up any eye wear. You have to learn how to inhale through your mouth, like how swimmers do.
Most people around the metro breathe in polluted gunk. There are hundreds of thousands of people who walk on the streets or take public transportation daily. People whose houses are located near heavily trafficked roads! Commuters! Children going to school! It affects even those who drive! Cars don’t have an air filtration system for the cabin anyway. Motorists breathe in the same kind of dirty air — theirs is just colder due to the A/C.
Sometimes this kind of situation makes it hard to justify being a cyclist. You try and help out your environment by riding a bike, but the existing environment tries to kill you anyway. It’s kind of a vicious circle. Having a pollution filter mask definitely helps if you want to maintain being a bike commuter in Metro Manila.
The Firefly Brigade says it best:
The fireflies have fled the city because they could not stand its dirty air. All of us cyclists, pedestrians, commuters, even those who ride cars who live, work and raise families in the city may suffer the same fate. We continue to dirty our city’s air with polluting vehicles and factories. As a result, we also risk disappearing like the fireflies.
Why resign ourselves to this fate? We have a choice. We can fight for clean air and bring the fireflies back.