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Durham University

Department of Earth Sciences


Publication details for Prof. Claire Horwell

McDonald, Fiona & Horwell, Claire J. (2020). Air Pollution Disasters: Liability Issues in Negligence Associated With the Provision of Personal Protective Interventions (Facemasks). Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness

Author(s) from Durham


Disasters may impact air quality through the generation of high levels of potentially pathogenic particulate matter (PM), for example, in a volcanic eruption. Depending on the concentrations of particles in the air, their size and composition, and the duration of exposure, high levels of PM can create significant public health issues. It has been argued that air pollution, in and of itself, is a public health crisis. One possible intervention to reduce exposure to high levels of PM during an air pollution disaster (APD) is using facemasks. However, agencies may be reluctant to recommend or distribute facemasks for community use during APDs for a variety of reasons, including concerns about liability. There has been no analysis of these concerns. This paper analyzes whether agencies may have a legal duty of care in negligence to provide warnings about the health risks associated with APDs and/or to recommend facemasks as a protective mechanism for community use to reduce exposure to PM. It is also the first to examine the potential for liability in negligence, when a decision is made to distribute facemasks for community use during an APD and the receiver alleges that they sustained a personal injury and seeks compensation.