Anti Smog air pollution mask company founders fund air quality research, raise awareness

NUR-SULTAN – Anti Smog air pollution mask company founders Dayana Tazhimuratova and Aisulu Tystykbayeva fund Kazakh air quality research and work on ways to increase awareness and counter air pollution.

Photo credit: @anti.smog Instagram account.

“Since we had health problems caused by air quality, we searched for a solution that could help us first of all to not feel so bad,” said Tystykbayeva.

“We realised that something has to be done. Particularly, we had to find a simple solution like masks. We started looking for good masks and we thought that since we need masks, other people in situations similar to ours [might also need them]. So, to make people’s lives easier, we purchased our test batch. Then, we were able to meet with Nassiba (Baimatova, PhD, Senior Scientist at the Biosphere Ecology Laboratory) and find out that the problem of smog is poorly researched and funded, so we had to act upon it,” she continued.

The company decided to approach the smog problem from several perspectives, trying to provide a short-term solution as well as more long-term efforts of educating the Kazakh population about air quality and funding further research.

“We see Anti Smog as a multi-faceted solution to the problems of air-pollution. First of all, we put in a lot of effort into educating the general population about the issue with smog. We ‘decode’ scientific articles and share actionable tips and other useful information in an entertaining manner,” said Tazhimuratova.

“On a personal level, we offer long-lasting masks so that an individual can effectively protect himself or herself from harmful particles (particulate matter (PM) 2.5). Most importantly, we sponsor air quality research; in particular, we are worried about the presence of volatile organic compounds in the air. Those are highly toxic for human organisms and unfortunately, there is nothing being done in that direction. This is why we stepped up to fill that niche,” she noted.

She cited chronic fatigue, allergies and possibly even cancer among the particularly troubling health consequences of pollution.

“Some of the milder consequences of the ‘bad air’ are chronic fatigue, allergies and headaches. We had all of those symptoms; this is why we spent last winter in panic. There is a tonne of research and resources, for example by WHO (World Health Organisation), which presents alarming data about air quality and its effect on people. For example, Kazakhstan has the highest mortality rate from lung disease. Naturally, we started looking for solutions that are simple and actionable,” she added.

Tystykbayeva highlighted lack of awareness regarding the pollution problem as a key challenge in their business, which they try to conquer using social media posts on pollution and ways to counter it.

“I think that on the one hand, there is an issue of raising awareness among our target audience, as we can’t just start selling our masks. A person should understand what is happening, that PM 2.5 is bad, what its consequences are, etc. In this aspect, we talk about smog and we try to make our information accessible and easy to act upon. For example, how you can protect yourself on a basic level, such as not going outside when the smog is especially intense, following the PM 2.5 concentration. We also try to make our content helpful for people who will not buy our masks,” she said.

Another problem is in the perception of cheaper alternatives having the same quality, said Tystykbayeva.

“The second problem we faced is people who say that there are masks that are sold on AliExpress (Chinese online marketplace website) and we charge a lot for them. That’s not true; we work with the factories directly, but by purchasing masks from AliExpress you can never be sure of the seller or the product. This way, we can ensure good quality masks that will be usable for a long time, as one can purchase disposable masks, but this practice is not environmentally sustainable. We wanted to make our product as sustainable as possible, to sell our masks as kits with enough filters to last the entire heating season, so the customer could buy our kit and forget about the smog problem,” she said.

Tazhimuratova suggested a collaborative systemic solution involving city administrations and the scientific community as the long-term definitive solution to the air quality problem.

“To effectively solve the issue, I think we have to come up with larger-scale, systemic solutions. Ideally, that would include working with both the city administration and scientific community,” said Tystykbayeva.

The company aims to reduce costs while maintaining the same quality to make the products more accessible, she noted.

“We would like to look for high quality, cheaper alternatives, so less privileged customers could also afford smog protection. Also, we pay a lot of attention to air quality monitoring, so starting with that we will see what to do and in which direction to move,” she added.

Anti Smog currently operates in Almaty and the capital, with their products available through their @anti.smog Instagram shop.