At least 60.5 million face masks rated as FFP2 and distributed to health workers should no longer be worn to protect against Covid, as inhaling their particles could be toxic for the lungs, health authority Santé publique France (SPF) has said.
The masks, rated FFP2, contain “biomass graphene”, and should no longer be worn as they can cause respiratory issues, the authority said. The masks are being recalled from use. They had been distributed for use in hospitals, pharmacies and other medical centres and situations.
Regional health authorities have sent hospitals a letter that reads: "At this stage, 60.5 million CE marked FFP2 masks have been identified as potentially containing graphene, of which 16.9 million were distributed in 2020.”
SPF said: “[People should] stop using FFP2 masks labelled ‘Biomass Graphene’ [due to a] possible risk linked to the presence of graphene in these masks.”
Biomass graphene is a material widely used in electronics due to its resistance and conductivity.
The recalled set of masks were part of a state stock, and had been provided to France by the Chinese manufacturer Shandong Shengquan New Materials (model SNN 200647), said online news site Mediapart.
When contacted by Mediapart, SPF said that the order dated back to April 2020, when face masks were being bulk ordered “during the face mask shortage”.
SPF added that the Chinese manufacturer had nowhere mentioned the “biocidal activity” present in their products (although “Biomass Graphene” was listed). If it had, the masks would not have been bought, SPF said.
It was not clear that the material had a toxic effect on the respiratory system until later, SPF said.
The warning in France comes two months after Canada warned of the same issue, and took certain models of masks off shelves.
At the start of April, the Canadian health ministry “advised Canadians to not wear masks containing graphene, as they could inhale graphene particles, which can be dangerous for health”.
It said: “Preliminary analysis of the available studies...has revealed that the inhalation of graphene particles may cause early lung toxicity in animals. We do not yet know the potential risks of inhalation of these particles from masks to humans, nor the risks to health that may exist.”
France’s national food and drug safety agency is now set to evaluate the possible toxicity of these masks to human health.