The 15 million fabric masks given to pharmacists by the Belgian government last summer may be toxic, according to a confidential report from Sciensano, the Belgian Institute for Public Health.
The face masks were manufactured in Asia by the Luxembourg-based company Avrox, and may contain nanoparticles of silver and titanium dioxide that when inhaled could damage the respiratory tract.
Two toxicologists warn that people who wear the masks are at risk of developing pneumonia, especially if they already have underlying respiratory problems, according to HLN.
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“Sooner or later you can ingest these nanoparticles, especially if the mask is washed and worn regularly. They can easily end up in the lungs and blood,” toxicologist Alfred Bernard said.
Nanoparticles of silver and titanium dioxide are used to whiten the fabric of the mask, not to be confused with nanoparticles of just silver, which have an antibacterial effect.
Sciensano has responded to the leaking of the report with a press release saying that it’s too early to draw conclusions.
“These are the first results of the first phase of a study and it is important to interpret them with caution,” the press release says. “Based on the current data, it cannot be determined whether these nanoparticles actually come out of the masks and to what extent the users are exposed to them.”
But this isn’t the first time the Luxembourg company has come under fire.
There were concerns about the safety of the masks last June when the Belgian government was distributing them for free to pharmacists, but Avrox insisted the face masks met all international standards.
The purchase of the masks themselves, which involved a €40 million agreement, is also being investigated for potential fraud because two of the people involved are said to personally know each other very well.
Avrox is run by two French persons: a former football agent and an ex-restaurateur. HLN reports that the main shareholder is a Jordanian millionaire with an address in Malta, a holding company in the Cayman Islands, and a firm that finances film projects in the US.