Are masks next on the FDA alert list of COVID products?
We in Melbourne, AU, are currently in lockdown with a compulsory facemask order when outside. I don't mind wearing a mask - for the greater good - but the chemical smell concerns me.
The ubiquitous blue 3-layer “surgical facemasks” have been costing up to $249 a box. Even for that high price of $5 per mask, they emit unpleasant fumes of plastic and polyester and even potentially harmful bleaches & dyes. A freshly unwrapped mask has that “fresh plastic” smell of the inside of a new car.
In the US, many sellers are touting FDA certificates of registration as evidence their masks can be trusted. They usually include an FDA logo and, often, a cartoon eagle. The certificates are particularly popular with companies in China.
But the certificates are meaningless. The FDA doesn’t issue such certificates.
Chemicals in masks are common
Chemicals meant to kill microorganisms aren’t unusual in face masks, according to this report. Silver, in particular, is an effective antimicrobial agent, although it works against bacteria rather than viruses and helps reduce odours, for instance.
That’s why there is a substantial wave of new research looking at what chemicals could attack viruses on a mask. Scientists have recently begun to understand that copper destroys virus mostly through copper ions jettisoned from its surface.
I don’t know what is in the common blue masks we use. It could be dioxin, formaldehyde, or forever chemicals such as PFAS (per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances and manufactured chemicals used in products that resist heat, oil, stains and water — see this CNN Report).
This article on Refinery29 “Is It Normal For Face Masks To Smell Bad?” came to the unhelpful conclusion that “ a little odour is very likely normal.
We've seen the scandal emerge with skin sanitisers, where the FDA keeps revising upwards its list of those which are being sold in large quantities yet are unsafe. There are now NINETY sanitisers on the FDA's list of "Dangerous Alcohol-Based Hand Sanitizers".
The agency has posted a do-not-use list of dangerous hand sanitizer products, which is being updated regularly.
Will the same happen for masks?
I'm not waiting to find out. Here's how I treat mine.
Since the new lockdown, I have been running 5km a day with a mask - for the last ten days. While running, I need to breathe more deeply. The chemical smell isn't encouraging, so I "disinfect" my masks right out of the box.
Here's my process, it's not rocket science, but the result is satisfying:
Consider adding some lavender
Some studies show that tea tree oil can help treat certain viruses. Research is inconclusive, but if true then it is a little bonus that comes with this treatment should you wish to wash after each use.
Research also suggests that eucalyptus oil may have anti-inflammatory properties.
Tip: Consider adding lavender also, as it has natural anti-inflammatory characteristics. It may help reduce any inflammation of the airways.
Now your mask will relax, rather than irritate
When you put these masks on your sense will be delighted by the natural aroma of the oil, and not irritated by the processing chemicals which accompanied them in their packaging.
When next exercising and wearing your mask, you'll find that the aromas help you to breathe just a little better and to feel a little less constrained by the mask. I did.
PS Disposal of covid masks is shaping up as an environmental issue
Although at the moment we are focused on the smell from the bag, it turns out that the disposal of billions of contaminated face masks is a problem not being addressed.
Their disposal causes environmental concerns because current disposal processes (i.e., incineration and reclamation) for them release toxic chemicals.
And of course, there is the issue of lingering virus contamination on the surface of used masks, especially those from front-line workers.
For example, in a 2019 study, researchers reported that they could isolate DNA and RNA from viruses such as adenovirus and influenza virus from 10% of surgical masks discarded by medical staff during 6–8 hour shifts at three Beijing hospitals (BMC Infect. Dis. 2019, DOI: 10.1186/s12879–019–4109-x).
This is a big sleeper issue — keep an eye on it.
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