Survey and risk assessment of chemicals in textile face masks

Due to the increased use of face masks in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Danish EPA have chosen to investigate 40 different textile face masks of different material for problematic chemicals. The projects primary focus was chemicals, which irritate the skin and respiratory tract, which are sensitisers, and which are carcinogenic. Additionally, the washout rate of substances, which are hazardous to the environment have also been studied.

The study investigated the chemicals: fluorine (PFAS-compounds), heavy metals, bisphenol A, formaldehyde, isocyanates and chlorinated flame retardants. The substances were identified in very small quantities, and some only in a small number of fabric masks. In general, these small quantities were assessed to be unlikely to constitute a health risk. Antimony and formaldehyde, which were seen as the most problematic substances concerning danger and identified amount, were investigated further in a risk assessment. The risk assessment indicated that the identified concentrations of antimony and formaldehyde are not expected to pose any health risk during realistic conditions of use. It cannot be excluded that formaldehyde in unwashed fabric masks may cause allergic reactions in particularly sensitive individuals.

The environmental assessment of the metals in the analyses (copper, zinc, silver, and antimony) shows that these metals are unlikely to affect aquatic environments in the quantities washed out of fabric masks. Concentrations of 6:2 FTOH in few face masks indicates that the compound potentially is problematic for the aquatic environment, but there is a lack in knowledge regarding this specific compound and its environmental impact.

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