Some face masks contain dangerous levels of toxic chemicals


Surgical mask on white background (Credits: Getty Images)

Some face masks in use by the public contain dangerous levels of toxic chemicals, according to a new analysis by scientists.

The masks were found to contain levels of formaldehyde and fluorocarbons that, when in close proximity to the mouth for extended periods of time, could cause dangerous levels of exposure.

These chemicals can both cause surface issues like watery eyes, burning nose and throat, as well as coughing, wheezing and nausea.

While the scientists emphasised that this didn’t include all masks, some face masks available for sale did appear to contain alarming amounts of the restricted substances.

Face masks for use by the general public aren’t regulated and often fall short of the standards set by medical grade PPE.

In March, government guidance suggested children and teachers should wear face masks in school, adding to the mandate that already applies to most shops and indoor spaces.

But evidence obtained by Ecotextile News from top German scientists showed that these masks could cause health issues.

In tests conducted by Professor Michael Braungart at the Hamburg Environmental Institute, masks that caused people to break out in hives appeared to contain harmful chemicals like formaldehyde.

different types of protective face mask against blue background (Credits: Getty Images)

‘What we are breathing through our mouth and nose is actually hazardous waste,’ Professor Braungart said.

‘We found formaldehyde and even aniline and noticed that unknown artificial fragrances were being applied to cover any unpleasant chemical smells from the mask.’

Formaldehyde often gives a ‘clean’ smell to a new pack of masks, while aniline is a dye that is a known carcinogen.

‘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.

In addition to Professor Braungart’s test, Dr Dieter Sedlak, co-founder of Modern Testing Services in Augsburg, found evidence of dangerous fluorocarbons with his own testing method.

Fluorocarbons (PFCs) are toxic to human health, with many scientists calling for them to be banned for non-essential use.

‘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.’

The waterproof coating that often covers new jackets and rucksacks is formed from PFCs, but they’re not designed to be used close to or on the face.

While the concentrations of PFCs found on the masks were within the safe limit of 16 mg/kg, prolonged exposure next to the face could cause the levels to rise past the safe limit.

Despite the dangers, the academics warned that the tests were only on a small number of masks, and it’s impossible to extrapolate how many, or how little, masks might contain dangerous chemicals.


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