80% of surgical masks in Belgium do not comply with safety standards

80% of surgical masks in Belgium do not comply with safety standards
Credit: Belga

Only one in five surgical masks sold via pharmacists in Belgium comply with the safety standards, according to sample tests by consumer organisation Test-Achats.

Of the five tested masks that were sold in pharmacies under the label 'surgical mask,' only one was found to meet the filter efficiency and air resistance standards.

For all masks, both filter efficiency (which measures the percentage of drops of a certain size that are stopped by wearing the mask) and air resistance (which determines how comfortably you can breathe through the mask) were tested.

"I must emphasise that for some of those masks, the results were very sad," said Ralf Klinkers of Test-Achats. Fabric masks and disposable comfort masks must provide at least 70% filtering efficiency, and for surgical masks, this standard is 95%.

The organisation also tested a sample of four disposable comfort masks, which are available in supermarkets. All four met the necessary standards, and three of them even met the standards for surgical face masks.

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Additionally, the federal government's face masks, which have been available in pharmacies since 15 June, passed the test and comply with the necessary standards.

"The fact that both reusable masks and disposable ones are more expensive in pharmacies than in the supermarket makes the difference in quality all the more striking," said Test-Achats, adding that a reusable mask is, on average, 2.5 times more expensive in a pharmacy.

The standards for comfort masks (disposable and reusable) must be made into an obligation, according to Test-Achats, which added that they are only "a recommendation to manufacturers" now.

"For us, it is of paramount importance that consumers receive correct and clear information when purchasing a mask," said Simon November, a Test-Achats spokesperson.

"This means that both the type of mask as well as the filter efficiency and the air resistance must be stated and that it must also be known, in the case of a fabric mask, how many washes the mask can undergo before it loses its quality. We also urge the government to focus more on quality control as well as on raising awareness about wearing and using a mask correctly," he added.

Maïthé Chini
The Brussels Times

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