My relationship with the DetoxAir filter began like many I’d had before: Excessive slobber and heavy breathing. Except, there was no romance between me and the plastic, curved cuboid about the size of a pack of gum. On the southern tip of Manhattan in the mid-morning work rush, I kept my eyes open as our lips touched—mine of flesh, its of flimsy gray rubber. Saliva began to dribble down my chin after two minutes. The moment, after five minutes, when I had to slither and dart my tongue around the edges of the mouthpiece to break through a film of thick mucus, I knew…. Things just weren’t going to work out between us.
My morning runs usually go up the west side of Manhattan. I cross busy intersections, weaving between exhaust pipes that spew toxins straight to my face. Frequently, I run right over subway grates that emit mystery smoke. I breathe through it all, deeply, intent on getting oxygen to my lungs so I can run faster and longer. I fully realize the pollution is horrible for me.
The DetoxAir filter is supposed to solve this problem and make city running healthy again. "Clean Breathing ON THE GO," it proclaims on the homepage. The device has a patent and includes a HEPA filter, which according to its website, blocks 99.97 percent of the toxins trying to kill me.
I could eviscerate the product for how it looks (like someone glued a bike headlight to a pacifier). How 50 percent of the people I passed on the waterfront path in the financial district turned their heads as I passed, hoping if I did something crazy they wouldn’t be involved. How, when I looked straight in the eyes of a construction worker in Battery Park, his surly gaze almost spoke to me, saying, “See this guy here, this is why all runners are stupid.”
But I won’t critique the looks, because I am a runner. I willingly wear stretchy polymer tights in public when it dips below 20 degrees. I also wear these shorts, and love them. I don’t really give an eff what I look like when I run. The problem with the DetoxAir filter is not how it looks.
The problem is that it ignores one very basic, very important, facet of human biology. We also breathe through our nose. Nowhere (I could find) does the website, the glorious marketing video, the Facebook page, or the packaging mention this. How did this question not come up during the very first meetings about the design?
Well, perhaps it did. I imagine an intern—we'll call him Neil—meekly raised his hand from the corner of some tiny conference room and quietly asked, “Umm, excuse me? But… is there some way we could cover the nose, too?” Except intern Neil was an intern. They ignored him and charged ahead.
Which is how, around mile 1 of my run, I became very conscious of how much air my nose was sucking up.
Is this going to kill me? Shouldn’t all the air go though the filter? Wait, I am smelling garbage and carbon monoxide, what is happening to my lungs?
At one point, I tried closing the passageway in my throat so that I only breathed through my mouth—the same way I do as I walk through the urine-soaked 49th street station after 12 a.m. on Friday nights. It is very hard to run like this. I lasted for 25 seconds before I needed to take a deep, nasally breath. But these pollutants! They might kill me!
I was stressed, I was slobbering, and my breathing sounded like Darth Vader with the flu. The microscopic holes in which the dirty air is supposed to transform into country-clean air restricts the flow. It, in some ways, felt like I was running with a cheesecloth taped over my mouth.
For the last half mile of the 4 mile route, I decided—like any good scientist—to run without the DetoxAir filter. A control test, if you will. I pulled the rubber lips out of my mouth. A string of salvia dripped down past my chin.
And it felt like, well... It felt like a breath of fresh air. Sure, that air probably wasn’t fresh. It had carbon monoxide particles and airborne viral organisms and construction dust and a cloud of things that will one day give me cancer.
But a slight, cool breeze rustled my hair off the Hudson River. I took a deep, filter-free inhale and felt better. That's when I decided to break up with my DetoxAir filter. At least it wasn't the worst relationship I've ever had.