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Face masks may harm lungs, group warns

TWO environment-advocacy groups have called on the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) to ensure that the face masks being sold in the market do not contain nanographene, a novel nanomaterial, that may cause harm to the lungs.

The Quezon City-based EcoWaste Coalition and the Quebec, Canada-based ETC group made the call following the health advisory issued 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.”

In its letter to the FDA, the EcoWaste Coalition also requested 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.

The group also asked the FDA to issue a public health advisory to warn the public 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.

Thony Dizon, EcoWaste Coalitiom Chemical Safety Campaigner, said Health Canada, which is equivalent to the Department of Health of the Philippines, recalled face masks labeled to contain graphene or biomass graphene.

The Health Canada recalled the said face masks 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.

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,” Dizon said.

Meanwhile, ETC group research director Jim Thomas said they have been pushing for technology assessment and precaution.

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,” Thomas said.

Dizon said that based on the preliminary market monitoring they conducted, it was 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.

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.