Face masks are used to protect against smoke and slow the spread of COVID-19. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances are added to many products to repel fluids, but their presence in face masks has not been studied. The researchers found that most face masks tested contained low or negligible levels of PFAS, except for one marketed to firefighters, which could pose health risks in certain situations.
Face masks are designed to prevent the inhalation of particles and pathogens but also to repel fluids, so some companies could be adding PFAS coating to their products. People have been wearing face masks for long periods of time, which could expose them to PFAS through inhalation, skin exposure or accidental ingestion. The compounds from used masks might end up in the environment. Ivan Titaley and his colleagues at Oregon State University wanted to measure PFAS in different types of face masks and analyze the implications for human exposure and the environment.
The researchers used mass spectrometry to measure nonvolatile and volatile PFAS in nine types of face masks, including one surgical, one N95, six reusable cloth, and a heat-resistant fabric mask advertised to firefighters. The highest level of masks was the firefighting mask. The team estimated the dose of PFAS that could cause health problems from previous animal studies. N95 and cloth masks would not pose a risk because of regular wear. When wearing a firefighter mask for a full day at a high activity level, such as exercising or working in ways that boost the wearer's respiration, the higher levels of PFAS exceeded the safe dose. Over 99% of masks discarded in landfills are surgical and N95 masks. If everyone in the U.S. threw away one mask per day, it would only be a small source of PFCs in domestic and landfill water.
According to the researchers, this study should encourage the public to wear face masks. They explain that it could help people make informed decisions about what masks to wear and encourage manufacturers to consider the chemicals used in masks.More information: Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) in Facemasks: Potential Source of Human Exposure to PFAS with Implications for Disposal to Landfills, Environmental Science & Technology Letters (2022). DOI: 10.1021/acs.estlett.2c00019 Journal information: Environmental Science & Technology Letters Citation: Most face masks don't expose wearers to harmful levels of PFAS, study says (2022, March 30) retrieved 30 March 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-03-masks-dont-expose-wearers-pfas.html This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.