Scientists have found toxic chemicals in preliminary analysis of face masks. These toxic substances found on face masks also involve carcinogens, allergens and controlled substances. Masks are used by general public these days mandated by governments in order to prevent Covid-19 infection. However, experts are concerned that toxic chemicals in face masks can cause unintended health issues.
Before pandemic, China was the leading mask manufacturer of the world and solidified this position amid the outbreak of pandemic. It makes 85% of all masks.
Over 70,000 new companies registered to manufacture and sell face masks in China in 2020. High demand of masks lead concerns that masks are being made recklessly.
Preliminary analysis revealed that these masks are laced with toxic chemicals which are restricted for both environmental and health reasons.
These substances include formaldehyde that causes a burning sensation in eyes and nose, watery eyes, nausea, wheezing and coughing.
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Director at the Hamburg Environmental Institute, Michael Braungart, conducted tests on masks that caused people to have rashes.
‘What we are breathing through our mouth and nose is actually hazardous waste,’ Professor Braungart said.
These used masks were found to contain formaldehyde and other chemicals.
Formaldehyde is the chemical which gives the ‘clean’ smell when a new pack of masks is opened. He also found aniline, a known carcinogen.
‘We found formaldehyde and even aniline and noticed that unknown artificial fragrances were being applied to cover any unpleasant chemical smells from the mask,” he said.
“In the case of the blue-coloured surgical masks, we found cobalt – which can be used as a blue dye.”
‘All in all, we have a chemical cocktail in front of our nose and mouth that has never been tested for either toxicity or any long-term effects on health,’ he said.
Dr Dieter Sedlak, managing director and co-founder of Modern Testing Services in Augsburg, also found formaldehyde, hazardous fluorocarbons (toxic) and other chemicals with his own unique testing method.
‘Honestly, I had not expected PFCs would be found in a surgical mask, but we have special routine methods in our labs to detect these chemicals easily and can immediately identify them. This is a big issue,’ said Dr Sedlak.
‘It seems this had been deliberately applied as a fluid repellent – it would work to repel the virus in an aerosol droplet format – but PFC on your face, on your nose, on the mucus membranes or on the eyes is not good.’
PFCs are used in textiles to add a coating in items like jackets and rucksacks and this protective coating is not intended to be inhaled.
‘Based on my practical experience there is certainly an elevated unreasonable risk,’ says Dr Sedlak.
Masks designed to be used by public are not categorized as PPE, so they are not subjected to meet the standards to design masks used by doctors.
Though, the accountability for ensuring masks meet the standards lies with the manufacturer and their local authorities.
But, these masks only have to meet general safety laws instead of having to meet medical grade standards and pass regular quality checks.
‘The General Product Safety Regulations 2005 (GPSR) sets out the responsibilities of the producers and distributors of these products,’ the UK government website states.
‘As face coverings are not medical devices, we do not regulate these products.’
Dr Julian Tang, a clinical virologist at the University of Leicester, repeated the sentiment of Professor Braungart and Dr Sedlak that more strong research is required.
‘Further studies on specific mask designs need to be performed if there is a perceived possible risk for any particular mask – and masks made by different manufacturers may not pose the same risks – if any exist,’ he said.
He says if people are concerned about their masks, one option is to use professional surgical masks which do have to meet stricter standards.
‘Southeast Asian countries have been using millions of surgical masks since the first SARS-COV-1 outbreaks in 2003 – with no reported ill effects,’ he adds.
‘But even before this, globally, surgical masks have been used in surgery by teams around the world – for decades – with no reported ill effects.’
Liz Cole, co-founder of the Us For Them organisation that advocates for children’s rights, says the findings are particularly concerning for youngsters.
‘Us for Them are concerned that the recommendations for children to wear face coverings in classrooms seems to be informed by no new scientific evidence nor does any harm assessment appear to have been conducted,’ she said.
‘Given the potential issues of child health and welfare at stake it is imperative that potential harms of face coverings in classrooms be considered and weighed against benefits’.
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