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New Study Reveals Chemical Release from Masks
Study shows surgical masks commonly used can released VOCs (volatile organic compounds).
A recently published study in the journal Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety, as well as on the website of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has unveiled a revelation regarding the potential risks associated with wearing N95 Covid masks, particularly the KF94 medical masks. The study, conducted by scholars from Jeonbuk National University in South Korea, examined various disposable medical-grade masks alongside several reusable cotton masks. Their findings indicate that these masks might inadvertently subject individuals to an alarming level of toxic volatile organic compounds (TVOCs), surpassing the recommended safety threshold by a staggering eightfold.
Measuring the quantity of harmful volatile organic compounds inhaled through masks
The abstract states, in part:
If harmful chemicals are released from these masks, there may be harmful effects on human health. In this study, the concentration of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted from some commonly used masks was assessed qualitatively and quantitatively under diverse conditions (including different mask material types, time between opening the product and wearing, and mask temperature).
The study states:
Fifteen species of the VOCs detected from mask samples were consistent with the hazardous chemicals commonly found in work environments, as identified by the United States’ National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH) (Barsan, 2007) ( Table 5). Among these 15 hazardous chemicals, DMAc and DMF are known to potentially cause liver and reproductive toxicity, and aromatic compounds such as toluene and xylene are toxic to the nervous system (Gong et al., 2016, Niaz et al., 2015, Saito et al., 2011, Wegner et al., 2021). Acetonitrile is also a harmful substance that can cause inflammation to the skin and eyes, and can cause neurological disorders (Ahmed et al., 1992, Hashimoto, 1991, Joshi and Adhikari, 2019). n-Hexane is a skin irritant that can cause headaches and pulmonary edema when inhaled. Simultaneous exposure to n-hexane and 2-butanone can cause severe neurotoxicity (Todd and Melia, 2019). However, the concentration levels of the hazardous chemicals (VOCs) detected were very low, nearly 100–1000 times less than the recommended exposure limit set by NIOSH. Nevertheless, the guidelines related to safe mask wearing are required as these 15 VOCs are harmful substances.
The study also states:
As masks are worn close to the face, temperature may increase beyond the ambient temperature due to body heat. Sunlight and ambient temperature also act as a factor in increasing the temperature of the mask. When the temperature of the mask rises, the types and concentrations of the VOCs emitted from the mask can rise with it.
As the number of problems that require mask wearing (including air pollution and COVID-19) grows, masks are increasingly important. Now that masks are all but required, the harmful chemicals that can be released from them must be evaluated. In this study, VOCs generated from various types of masks, including commonly used KF94 disposable masks, were assessed. The types and concentrations of VOCs that humans are likely to be exposed to from these masks under various conditions (i.e., emission time, temperature, and mask types) were calculated and compared. This study demonstrated that disposable masks (KF94) released higher concentrations of TVOCs in comparison to cotton masks, with values of 3730 ± 1331 µg m–3 for KF94 and 268 ± 51.6 µg m–3 for cotton masks. The concentrations of TVOCs in KF94 masks are high enough to pose a concern based on indoor air quality guidelines established by the German Federal Environment Agency. However, when KF94 masks were opened and left undisturbed for 30 min at room temperature, TVOC concentrations significantly decreased to 724 ± 5.86 µg m–3 (a 78.2 ± 9.45% reduction from levels measured immediately upon opening). It is clear that particular attention must be paid to the VOCs associated with the use of KF94 masks their effects on human health. Based on our findings, we suggest that prior to wearing a KF94 mask, each product should be opened and not worn for at least 30 min, thereby reducing TVOC concentrations to levels that will not impair human health.
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