Written by Nathaniel Tok, Peak Associate


Airline mask use still effective with beards

SFU researchers have debunked the myth that beards are threatening in low-oxygen situations, allowing pilots to grow facial hair.

The research was done for Air Canada by Sherri Ferguson, director of the environmental medicine and physiology unit at SFU, and her team. The researchers studied how beard length affects facemask effectiveness, as the company deliberated on whether or not to repeal their policy requiring pilots to be clean-shaven.

The team first examined whether Air Canada’s current masks give bearded pilots enough oxygen during depressurization to prevent hypoxia (oxygen deficiency in the bodily tissues).

The team also looked to see if bearded mask-wearers would be protected against carbon monoxide inhalation in the event of smoke or fire.

Participants were split up based on beard length and placed in SFU’s hypobaric chamber to simulate different altitudes.

Ferguson found that beard length did not affect the participants’s oxygen levels. Participants also did not exhibit signs of smoke inhalation when Ferguson’s team simulated the smoky conditions of a fire using stannic chloride, because the masks created a tight seal irrespective of facial hair length.

The study’s results prompted Air Canada to change its policy on facial hair, letting pilots keep short beards; the maximum length is 12.5 mm.


Air purifiers can help improve fetal growth in polluted settings

In a unique study, SFU health sciences researchers Prabjit Barn and Ryan Allen found that air purifiers inside pregnant women’s homes can help fetal growth, especially if the women lived in polluted environments.

This study was done in Mongolia’s capital Ulaanbaatar. Ulaanbaatar, with fine particulate matter levels high above recommended levels by the World Health Organization, is one of the world’s most polluted regions.

Barn and Allen had about 540 pregnant women take part in a randomized controlled trial study. They provided high-efficiency particulate arresting (HEPA) air purifiers in the houses of half the participants, which lowered indoors fine particulate matter levels by almost 30%.

The women whose homes had the HEPA purifiers during their pregnancy tended to give birth to heavier babies than those whose homes did not.

Barn and Allen believe that this is evidence that air pollution adversely affects fetal development, and that controlling it could be favorable for fetal growth.