THUNDER BAY – Health Canada has issued an advisory warning Canadians not to use face masks containing graphene, citing potential health risks.
The agency directed distributors, importers, and manufacturers to stop selling the products pending a “thorough scientific assessment,” in an advisory issued Friday.
Individuals are advised to immediately stop using masks labelled to contain graphene or biomass graphene, consult a health provider if they have used the masks and experienced any concerns such as shortness of breath, and report any adverse events to Health Canada.
Roughly 4.6 million graphene-coated masks were distributed to schools by the Quebec government, sourced from a Quebec company but manufactured in China, multiple media outlets have reported. It's unclear how widely such masks have been used in other areas of the country.
The potential health risks associated with the masks remain uncertain, the agency noted in its advisory. The material is a carbon allotrope reported to have antiviral and antibacterial properties, Health Canada said.
“Health Canada’s preliminary assessment of available research identified that inhaled graphene particles had some potential to cause early lung toxicity in animals,” it said. “However, the potential for people to inhale graphene particles from face masks and the related health risks are not yet known, and may vary based on mask design.”
Health Canada has requested data from manufacturers to assess potential health risks, it said.
That includes local company ZEN Graphene Solutions, which has supplied graphene-based coating for masks and filters made by Collingwood-based Trebor Rx.
A surgical mask using the graphene coating has not yet gone to market, but could potentially have begun distribution this month.
Reached Sunday, ZEN CEO Greg Fenton said the masks had undergone rigorous safety testing, including on lab animals, and passed Health Canada testing requirements as a Class I medical device.
Fenton welcomed the investigation and expressed confidence the masks his company contributes material to would be approved after further investigation.
ZEN's manufacturing process is markedly different from the biomass graphene he believes was used on the masks that prompted concerns of adverse symptoms from Quebec residents.
Health Canada issued its advisory after becoming aware that masks containing graphene had been sold “with COVID-19 claims” and used by adults and children in schools and daycares, it said. They may also have been distributed in health care settings.
Any face masks containing graphene will remain off the market until Health Canada has completed a more thorough assessment, it said.
A representative for Health Canada said the agency was unable to comment until Tuesday, as its office was closed for the Easter weekend statutory holiday.
This article has been updated to include comment from ZEN Graphene Solutions and Health Canada.