Air filter masks donated to B.C. by Waterloo startup

Waterloo startup O2 Canada donated air filtration masks to Kamloops, B.C. to tackle air quality issues due to the series of wildfires.

'That was never in the game plan'

Salvation Army volunteers wearing the masks donated by O2 Canada. Rich Szasz is standing in the middle. (Courtesy of Rich Szasz)

Waterloo startup O2 Canada has donated 250 filtration masks as air quality has worsened in B.C. as hundreds of wildfires burn in that province.

Co-founder Rich Szasz told CBC News they were planning soft launch in August and once they started making money, begin philanthropic work.

Those plans completely changed after they saw what was happening in B.C.
A rendering of the components of the mask. The part that makes contact with the face on the very left is made of silicone. (Courtesy of O2 Canada)

"When we heard of the fires happening out west, I got on a plane to fly to China to expedite manufacturing, and then we shipped our masks directly to B.C. That was never in the game plan," co-founder Rich Szasz told CBC News.

"We decided, you know what, they need them right now, so let's give them away right now and we'll worry about revenue later," he said.

B.C. air quality 'worse than Beijing'

They gave masks to Salvation Army volunteers who work long hours to distribute food and supplies to people displaced by the B.C. fires. Szasz said "it was a bit of a surreal situation" to see the masks used in the field. 

"Just giving them the mask and coming back the next day seeing them wearing the masks still, was probably one of the most memorable situations of this trip," he said.

The air quality, said Szasz, was especially bad in Cache Creek and Kamloops, "The air pollution, it was worse than Beijing when I was there."

The company shipped an additional 1000 masks to B.C. from their manufacturing facility on Aug. 8. These masks will sell for $55 USD each. The company is also accepting donations, and the money will go towards giving away the masks for free in B.C. 

Szasz will be returning to Kamloops this Saturday to help with distributing the masks.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story said the company is donating an additional 1000 masks to B.C. In fact, the 1000 masks are for sale for people who want them. The company will be accepting donations in order to give some away for free.
    Aug 09, 2017 1:35 PM ET