13 April 2021, Quezon City. The environmental health watchdog groups EcoWaste Coalition (based in Quezon City, Philippines) and ETC Group (based in Quebec, Canada) have called upon the health authorities to ensure that face masks sold in the market do not contain nanographene, a novel nanomaterial, that may cause harm to the lungs.
The groups’ push to rid the market of graphene-containing face masks came on the heels of a recent advisory by Health Canada advising the public not to use such masks “because there is a potential that they could inhale graphene particles, which may pose health risks.”
Health Canada, which is equivalent to the Department of Health of the Philippines, recalled face masks labeled to contain graphene or biomass graphene after receiving complaints of breathing difficulties from wearers of such masks and after an assessment of available research indicated it had some potential to cause early lung toxicity in animals.
Through a letter sent to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the EcoWaste Coalition urged the government to issue a public health advisory, in line with the precautionary principle, that will warn the Filipino people against the potential health risks from wearing face masks containing nanographene, and to stop the manufacture, importation, distribution and sale of such products in retail stores and online shopping sites.
“As the wearing of face masks is an essential part of our country’s minimum public health protocols to curb the spread of COVID-19, the government must ensure that face masks and other personal protective equipment are safe from graphene and other potentially toxic nanoparticles that can be inhaled and get trapped in our lungs,” said Thony Dizon, Chemical Safety Campaigner, EcoWaste Coalition.
Jim Thomas, Research Director of ETC Group, a Canadian-based watchdog that has been pushing for technology assessment and precaution, said: “Face masks are supposed to keep citizens safe not put them at further risk. Rushing untested nanomaterials into millions of face masks is an example of unscrupulous pandemic profiteering. Governments need to urgently reassure parents, workers and other citizens that commitment to the precautionary principle and protecting health will not be cast aside to let risky tech companies make a killing in a pandemic.”
Preliminary market monitoring conducted by the EcoWaste Coalition revealed that graphene face masks are being sold by third-party dealers in popular online shopping platforms.
The group also found wholesalers and retailers in Bambang and Binondo, Manila selling nano masks containing unidentified nano fibers.
In addition to issuing a public health advisory, the EcoWaste Coalition also requested the FDA to determine which of the 93 FDA-notified medical face masks, as well as the numerous unnotified face masks that have flooded the market, contain nanographene.
Acknowledging the consumer right to know, the group further urged the FDA to require medical face masks — as a requirement for the issuance of Product Notification Certificate — to provide labeling information as to their ingredients, including graphene or any other nanoparticles if any.
“Manufacturers must also conduct safety tests on nanomaterials used in the production of face masks and make the results publicly available before placing such products on the market,” the group insisted.
Backgrounder prepared by ETC Group:
- A concerned Canadian parent first alerted the authorities to the risks of nanographene masks in January 2021.
- Canada’s ban on nanographene masks sold under the ‘healfiber’ label first broke in Quebec in March 26thafter Health Canada sent an urgent memo instructing authorities to stop using them and for parents and schools to store the masks in an isolated place. The memo explained “Health Canada has conducted a preliminary risk assessment which identified potential for early pulmonary toxicity associated with the inhalation of nanoform graphene. To date, Health Canada has not received data to support the safety and efficacy of face masks containing nanoform graphene”. A number of individuals have come forward in Quebec reporting breathing problems, headaches, skin complaints, and other adverse effects from the ‘healfiber’ masks.
- On April 2nd, Health Canada issued a further public advisory warning, “Do not use face masks labeled to contain graphene or biomass graphene.” And advised the public to “report any breathing difficulties or other adverse health effects.”
- A general overview of toxicity concerns regarding nano-graphene in masks by Andrew Maynard, a leading nanotoxicologist.