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The sale of pollution masks is seasonal, I have noticed this for 8 years now. The market takes off in October and declines in April. Obviously, it is not only about protection against the cold, even if a mask is very useful in this respect. I was therefore interested in understanding the reasons for the greater frequency of pollution peaks during the winter.

Is the weather related to pollution peaks?

Statistics show that there are more pollution peaks in winter than in summer. How can this be explained? 

As a general rule, the further you go from the ground, the lower the air temperature. In winter, however, the opposite can happen. When it is cold, the air in the upper layers of the atmosphere can be warmer than the air on the ground. This is called thermal inversion. The cold air is pressed to the ground by the warmer air above, like a lid, which prevents pollutants from dispersing. In winter, this situation is even more marked by the difference in temperature between day and night. Cooled at night, the air does not have time to warm up during the day, and therefore remains stuck to the ground. The absence of rain, or wind, can make this phenomenon worse. Rain washes the fine particles to the ground and wind disperses them.

Does residential heating have an impact on pollution?

Residential heating creates a lot of fine particles, CO2, nitrogen monoxide and dioxide, sulphur and dioxins which contribute to global warming. As its use is more intense in winter, it obviously contributes to winter pollution peaks.  

Which heating methods are the least polluting?

Oil heating is by far the most polluting heating system. For this reason, the installation of heating or hot water production equipment using oil has been prohibited since 1 July 2022, unless other energy sources cannot be used.

The combustion of natural gas mainly emits water vapour and carbon dioxide (CO2) in small quantities (30 to 50% less CO2 emissions than other fuels).

Electric equipment is the least polluting in use, as it does not emit CO2 and does not release fine particles. The impact of electric heating on the environment is therefore very low... but the same cannot be said for the production of electricity that powers the radiators, which is partly based on fossil fuels!

The CO2 emitted by the combustion of wood is compensated by the growing biomass through photosynthesis. The carbon dioxide released into the air during combustion corresponds to that which was absorbed during the growth of the tree, unlike fossil fuels. Heating with wood is therefore good for the climate, but it emits a lot of fine particles, which makes it a major contributor to winter pollution peaks.

Solar heating is the most environmentally friendly form of heating

What other factors aggravate winter pollution peaks?

Agricultural spreading of fertilisers, which emits ammonia into the air, takes place in February-March. 

The relief plays a significant role and this explains why some towns or mountain valleys are so often drowned in winter pollution. Air masses can be slowed down or even blocked by the mountainous terrain. A 'bowl' topography or a valley squeezed between two mountain ranges will considerably amplify the accumulation of pollutants because their horizontal dispersion will be reduced. 

Car traffic, of course, because people ride their bikes or motorbikes when it is cold or raining. 

Why is there less ozone pollution in winter?

It is not only the cold weather that has an impact on pollution. Ozone, for example, is a secondary pollutant, which means that it is not emitted directly by human activities.

Ozone is, in fact, the result of chemical transformations of primary pollutants (such as nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds) under the influence of solar radiation.  

Consequently, this pollutant is particularly present in summer

How to protect yourself effectively during a pollution peak?

Wearing a FFP2 pollution mask such as the Frogmask is a simple, economical and very effective way of protecting the respiratory tract, especially for people on two wheels. In addition, they keep you warm in winter and their water-repellent material prevents your face from getting wet on rainy days.

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