Safety of free facemasks concern of industry federations

Summary

The facemasks provided by the federal government to all residents of Belgium are unsafe because of the anti-bacterial layer, say three industry umbrella organisations

Silver ions at centre of controversy

Three industry federations have released a statement saying they are concerned about dangerous compounds used in the facemasks provided by the federal government. The facemasks are currently being distributed free to Belgian residents via pharmacies.

The masks (pictured above) contain an anti-bacterial layer that are a “risk for both human and environmental health,” according to industry safety advisor Febelsafe, fashion industry federation Creamoda and FBT, which represents the industrial laundering sector.

The masks, produced by Avrox in Luxembourg, have been treated with a biocide based on silver ions. These kill all living organisms and so are effective against Covid-19.

These ions, according to the industry federations, never permanently bind to textiles and are therefore constantly released. They are used in specialised medical textiles such as binding for wounds to prevent the wound from becoming infected.

People are going to breathe these ions in, so they go directly into the bloodstream

- Jo Van Landeghem of Creamoda

But they could be a health hazard when it comes to using them in facemasks, Jo Van Landeghem of Creamoda told Het Laatste Nieuws. “It is simply not needed here because healthy bacteria protect us,” he said. “People are going to breathe these ions in, so they are not even going to be absorbed by the skin first but go directly into the bloodstream.”

Biocides in general are legal in Belgium but first must be approved by the federal public health department. They do not all use silver compounds, however. Van Landeghem calls their use in facemasks for the public “absurd”.

Producer Avrox, meanwhile, states that the facemasks conform to all national and international safety standards. The masks were approved for use by the federal health department before being distributed to pharmacists by the department of defence.

The biocide made up of silver ions “is a recognised, documented and perfectly safe technology for public health,” stated the defence department in a reaction. The same compounds are used “in many facemasks that are marketed on the national and international market and sold in supermarkets and pharmacies for both professional and non-professional use”.

Photo ©Bruno Fahy/BELGA