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Breathe 99 designs affordable, re-usable B2 mask

Inspired by his experiences dealing with acute air pollution in southeast Asia, company owner Max sought to build a more efficient, lightweight, reusable respirator.

MINNEAPOLIS — We've heard lots of stories about the different ways people are making much-needed masks during this pandemic.

We caught up with Max - who started creating his version well before the coronavirus - but it turns out it's perfect timing for his efforts.

Max, the founder of Breathe 99, says his company is designing their B2 mask, a lightweight, reusable respirator "that filters 99% of common contaminants and also reduces filter waste and cost."

He outlines several core components to his design. The first, is a removable fabric overlay, followed by a molded face piece that he says has a folding hinge - making it easier to transport, for example, in a purse or pocket. 

The filtration disc, he says, is a small circular component that is electrostatically charged. "Which is what helps it to be so efficient in removing the material from the air you breathe."

Max says these small filtration discs are what help make the mask easier to produce, more affordable and more efficient from a utility standpoint as you are not throwing out the whole mask, but rather just this one piece. 

Max draws from a mechanical engineering background he picked up while studying in Singapore - where he also took a pollution engineering course, mainly out of curiosity.

It was there, living in southeast Asia that Max says he developed an appreciation for the privilege of breathing clean air, experiencing acute air pollution first hand.

Unable to find a mask that was both comfortable and stylish, he sought to make a better one.

"Well, people thought I was a little bit weird before, frankly, I mean, why is this kid in Minnesota where you guys have clean air, why are you working on a mask," he says. "Part of that is just because they were removed from the problem, be it air pollution from coal burning factories in China or wildfire smoke in California, I mean, people here in Minnesota just don’t experience those issues on a day to day basis."

Max says his company has brought the design of their B2 mask to the point where it can be used at-scale, and they've begun conversations with local manufacturers in the Midwest. 

"We're aiming to have our first production run shipping by June," he says.

Max says the company's aim is not so much about making money, but rather the advancement of public health objectives and the protection of people's health. "As a part of that we want to make sure that a basic public health product like [the] B2 mask is available to everybody."

Max's goal is to be able to donate one mask to a person in need, for every mask they sell. 

"A lot of people are really dealing with a hard time right now and so that’s who I’m thinking about as we get this out there. I’m grateful that I’m in a position where I can help people."

The mask is currently available for pre-order through Kickstarter.

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The state of Minnesota has set up a hotline for general questions about coronavirus at 651-201-3920 or 1-800-657-3903, available 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

There is also a data portal online at mn.gov/covid19.