Some face mask manufacturers added graphene coatings to their face masks to “inactivate the virus.” These face masks were worn by millions as dictated by governments and health officials to stop the spread of Covid, or so they said.
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“In exchange for [the] unknown level of added protection [from graphene], there is a theoretical risk that breathing through a graphene-coated mask will liberate graphene particles that make it through the other filter layers on the mask and penetrate the lung. If inhaled, the body may not remove these particles rapidly enough to prevent lung damage,” wrote The Conversation.
In September 2020, based on a brief review of the scientific literature and published guidance and reports relating to face coverings, the Environmental Modelling Group (“EMG”) and New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (“NERVTAG”) prepared a report for the UK government. “There is a lack of good evidence relating to the wearing of face coverings, with very little data relating to duration of wearing,” the report said.
On 26 March 2021, the Quebec provincial government removed these masks from schools and day-care centres after Health Canada, Canada’s national public health agency, warned that inhaling the graphene could lead to asbestos-like lung damage. The masks were made in China and sold and distributed by Métallifer, a Quebec-based manufacturer. Around 4.6 million graphene-coated masks were distributed to schools by the government of Quebec although it was unclear how widely the masks were used.
On 2 April 2021 Health Canada urged Canadians not to use face masks that contain graphene or biomass graphene and issued a recall of those masks. The concern was the potential for the tiny particles to be inhaled, which may pose a health risk.
On 15 April 2021, the Spanish Agency for Medicines and Health Products (“AEMPS”) requested voluntary removal of the marketing of masks that contain graphene and began an investigation into the risk of pulmonary toxicity when inhaling graphene nanoparticles. “It is recommended that these masks not be used,” AEMPS said.
In early June 2021, Public Health France warned French hospitals not to use face masks that contained biomass graphene, 16.9 million face masks that potentially contained graphene had already been distributed during 2020, from an order made in April 2020 of 60.5 million masks. The masks were made in China.
On 13 July 2021, Health Canada said it assessed four face mask models produced by Shandong Shengquan New Materials and found that the biomass graphene didn’t pose a health risk to wearers and authorised the sale of the masks in Canada to resume. Why the change from “health risk” to “no health risk”? Could economics and company profits have played a part?
Manufacturers respond to graphene masks health hazard warnings
Following concerns surrounding the use of graphene in face masks and Health Canada’s warnings of “a potential that wearers could inhale graphene particles from some masks, which may pose health risks”, several companies involved in the production of such masks released comments.
Zen Graphene Solutions, which developed a graphene-based virucidal ink and reported that it has a 99% effectiveness against COVID-19, released a statement saying that it is aware of the recent claims, and “is aligned and supportive of the steps taken to regulate the use of graphene and remove products that are unsafe for the public”. It went on to state that its own products have been found safe in various “comprehensive testing”. Later on, Zen also submitted various data requested by Health Canada – including final results received from Nucro-Technics on skin irritation and sensitivity that confirmed ZENGuard did not lead to any irritation or sensitivity.
NanoXplore, also a Canadian company, provided an update on the regulatory approval of its GrapheneBlack material. It stated that on September 4, 2020, it received approval under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act to manufacture and sell its GrapheneBlack in any amount in Canada, for commercial uses as an additive in plastics, thermosetting composites, paints and coatings and as a component of battery electrodes. NanoXplore also listed the various tests done on its materials, that have reportedly “shown no adverse effect to animal skin and lung and most importantly, no gene mutation or DNA damage was observed in the in-vivo or in-vitro genotoxicity tests via inhalation”.
The Graphene Council said it respected the role of Health Canada in protecting its population from the sale and distribution of potentially harmful products. However, Health Canada’s decision for a blanket halt to all sales and distribution of any and all graphene-enabled face masks risks potential harm to legitimate, trustworthy producers and suppliers.
Read more: Companies respond to graphene masks “health hazard” scare, Graphene-Info, 6 April 2021
How does graphene damage viruses, bacteria and human cells?
Graphene is a thin but strong and conductive two-dimensional sheet of carbon atoms. There are three ways that it can help prevent the spread of microbes:
- Microscopic graphene particles have sharp edges that mechanically damage viruses and cells as they pass by them.
- Graphene is negatively charged with highly mobile electrons that electrostatically trap and inactivate some viruses and cells.
- Graphene causes cells to generate oxygen free radicals that can damage them and impairs their cellular metabolism.
In August 2020, scientists from the City University of Hong Kong developed a graphene mask that deactivated two coronaviruses and killed bacteria more effectively, The HealthSite wrote. The research team, led by Assistant Professor Dr. Ye Ruquan, tested their laser-induced graphene with E. coli, and it achieved high anti-bacterial efficiency of about 82 per cent. In comparison, the anti-bacterial efficiency of activated carbon fibre and melt-blown fabrics, both commonly-used materials in masks, were only 2 per cent and 9 per cent respectively. Experiment results also showed that over 90 per cent of the E. coli deposited on them remained alive even after 8 hours, while most of the E. coli deposited on the graphene surface were dead after 8 hours. The findings were published in the scientific journal ACS Nano.
As early as 2003 health authorities were advising surgical face masks should be changed 15 or 20 minutes such as THIS warning from Australia. “Those masks are only effective so long as they are dry,” said Professor Yvonne Cossart of the Department of Infectious Diseases at the University of Sydney. “As soon as they become saturated with the moisture in your breath, they stop doing their job and pass on the droplets.”
However, in 2020 “the science” began to shift to suit the current narrative: “There’s no consensus on how long is too long to wear a single mask – but it’s believed that four or five hours is the maximum you should go without changing,” Yorkshire Live reported. And BBC reported, “Even wearing a damp homemade mask can reduce the number of droplets each of us emits while we speak.”
Whether it is pre-Covid science or post-Covid science that has integrity, even the most religious mask wearers would agree, that developing a facemask that is effective only after 8 hours – where E. coli on the surface were dead after 8 hours – seems pointless. But hey, it’s “the science.”
An interesting point to note about the City University of Hong Kong researchers’ ambitions is, as MedicalExpo reported, they “have used the so-called “wonder material” to develop an antibacterial face mask which has the potential to combat Covid-19 quickly, cheaply and sustainably.”
“More research is required to determine the exact reason for graphene’s antibacterial nature. It may be related to damage caused to bacterial cells by graphene’s sharp edges, and possibly also to dehydration effects induced by graphene’s water-repellent properties,” Dr. Ye said.
Firstly, the face mask is “antibacterial.” Their study showed graphene killed bacteria, E. coli. And what exactly is “sustainable” about the manufacture and use of graphene?
What’s even more interesting, and possibly raises other concerns, is the City University of Hong Kong researchers want to exploit the photothermal effects of graphene to help kill bacteria:
“Previous studies suggested that Covid-19 would lose its infectivity at high temperatures. So, the team carried out experiments to test if the graphene’s photothermal effect (producing heat after absorbing light) can enhance the anti-bacterial effect. The results showed that the anti-bacterial efficiency of the graphene material could be improved to 99.998 per cent within 10 minutes under sunlight, while activated carbon fibre and melt-blown fabrics only showed an efficiency of 67 per cent and 85 per cent respectively.”Anti-bacterial graphene face masks that can deactivate coronaviruses developed, The HealthSite, 12 September 2020
Why graphene may be linked to lung injury
In a 2021 article, ‘Are graphene-coated face masks a Covid-19 miracle – or another health risk?’, The Conversation discussed whether the move by Health Canada to recall graphene-contaminated masks was warranted by the facts, or if it was an over-reaction. Below are excerpts from this article.
Researchers have been studying the potential negative impacts of inhaling microscopic graphene on mammals. In one 2016 experiment, mice with graphene placed in their lungs experienced localised lung tissue damage, inflammation, formation of granulomas (where the body tries to wall off the graphene), and persistent lung injury, similar to what occurs when humans inhale asbestos. A different study from 2013 found that when human cells were bound to graphene, the cells were damaged.
To mimic human lungs, scientists have developed biological models designed to simulate the impact of high concentration aerosolised graphene – graphene in the form of a fine spray or suspension in the air – on industrial workers. One such study published in March 2020 found that a lifetime of industrial exposure to graphene induced inflammation and weakened the simulated lungs’ protective barrier.
It’s important to note that these models are not perfect options for studying the dramatically lower levels of graphene inhaled from a face mask, but researchers have used them in the past to learn more about these sorts of exposures. A study from 2016 found that a small portion of aerosolised graphene nanoparticles could move down a simulated mouth and nose passages and penetrate the lungs. A 2018 study found that brief exposure to a lower amount of aerosolised graphene did not notably damage lung cells in a model.
This trio of findings suggest that a little bit of graphene in the lungs is likely to be okay, but a lot is dangerous.
Although it might seem obvious to compare inhaling graphene to the well-known harms of breathing in asbestos, the two substances behave differently in one key way. The body’s natural system for disposing of foreign particles cannot remove asbestos, which is why long-term asbestos exposure can lead to the cancer mesothelioma. But in studies using mouse models to measure the impact of high dose lung exposure to graphene, the body’s natural disposal system does remove the graphene, although it occurs very slowly over 30 to 90 days.
The findings of these studies shed light on the possible health impacts of breathing in microscopic graphene in either small or large doses. However, these models don’t reflect the full complexity of human experiences. So, the strength of the evidence about either the benefit of wearing a graphene mask or the harm of inhaling microscopic graphene as a result of wearing it is very weak.
The above represents only the beginnings of a review of the health impacts of graphene. When in doubt the precautionary principle should be applied. The precautionary principle was introduced to create a basis for thoughtful and considered evaluation of policy, technology, scientific discovery, and innovative ways of providing foresight. It reviewing before leaping into innovations that may prove disastrous.
However, since the Rio Declaration, the precautionary principle has been steadily downgraded, argued Rupert Read and Tim O’Riordan in the September / October 2017 issue of Environment Magazine.
“The decline of this principle is a synecdoche for the challenges facing ‘sustainability science’ … the legitimate and legislative foundations of the precautionary principle are being dismantled and removed.”
Is the precautionary principle another facet of “the science” being altered to suit “the narrative”? Regardless of what your government tells you, do you still trust “the science”?
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