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NGOs warn about graphene masks, “potentially toxic”: should we be worried?

In early April, four NGOs – Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), ETC group, Health Care Without Harm and Women Engage for a Common Future – sent a letter to the European Union demanding precautionary regulations regarding masks containing graphene .

On March 26 already, Quebec had recalled several million masks containing these “antiviral” protections. The reason ? These masks “Potentially toxic” must be withdrawn from the market while it is time to assess their possible dangerousness.

Are these masks used in France? Is it dangerous for his health to wear them? What should you know about graphene? “The Obs” takes stock.

Better conductor than copper, two hundred times more resistant than steel but six times lighter, flexible, waterproof: on paper, graphene is first in all categories », Explains journalist Sylvain Guilbaud on the CNRS website. Otherwise, ” there are many variants of graphene made up of several layers of carbon atoms, the properties of which are not quite the same “, Specify” Les Echos “.

In addition to delighting industry, graphene would have interesting properties for the health sector. Some of its derivatives would even have ” strong antiviral activity against the coronavirus ”and“ could be used […] to block entry of coronaviruses or can be applied to tissues for significantly improved protection », Detail« Les Echos ». While non-graphene masks – whether fabric, surgical, or FFP2 – filter the air but do not deactivate the virus. Graphene would prove to be all the more interesting as it would offer a longer lifespan to the masks which are provided with it. Thus, disposable graphene masks could be used several days before needing to be washed. It would thus be possible to keep your FFP2 mask for almost a week.

However, the ” scientific literature remains scant on the subject ”, Work was therefore launched two months ago to verify the effectiveness of the antiviral properties of graphene and its derivatives today used in certain anti-Covid masks.

Besides the fact that it is not yet known what the real antiviral properties of graphene are, it could be that breathing it is quite simply dangerous for human health.

In doubt, on March 25, Quebec, which had distributed 30 million of these masks, especially in schools, began to advise against their use and to recall them, following the recommendations of Health Canada. These include the symptoms described by several children – difficulty in breathing, skin irritation, feeling of “Breathe cat hair” -, who alerted the Canadian authorities. Thus, on April 2, Canada renewed this recall in a second opinion, this time highlighting the risks of inhalation:

Inhalation of graphene particles could cause early pulmonary toxicity in animals. […] VShowever, the potential for inhalation of these particles by masks in humans and the associated health risks are not yet known, which may vary depending on the design of the mask. We do not know the risk to human health by age “

For its part, Shengquan, the Chinese company that manufactures the masks in question, ensures that the graphene used in its products is not nanoscopic, and therefore less problematic.

  • What are the risks in France?

Several distributors continue to market these masks in France, to pharmacies but also to the general public via websites. The National Health Security Agency (ANSES) issued a cautious opinion in 2016. The Agency recommended in particular to privilege ” products that have undergone a health risk assessment and life cycle analysis ” or “ safe products or equivalent products in terms of function, efficiency and cost without carbon nanotubes.

However, masks containing graphene ” are available on the European market and used by the general public “, Note in their letter the four organizations which alerted the European Union. Should we be worried?

If graphene is effectively trapped between various layers of filter media, the probability of inhaling this nanomaterial is probably very low. “,” Les Echos “concludes, citing Emmanuel Flahaut, research director at CNRS, who adds: “The whole question is therefore to know what graphene it really is, how much is present in the masks and what proportion can potentially be inhaled”.

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