April 15, 2021

Health Canada: Masks Containing Graphene May Pose Health Risks

Editor's note: Health Canada has allowed the sale of four mask models containing graphene to resume following a risk assessment and review of scientific literature prompted by the concerns described below. The department's update was published on July 13.

An advisory issued on April 2 by Health Canada, the Canadian federal department responsible for national public health, urges individuals not to use face masks that contain graphene, a novel nanomaterial reported to have antiviral and antibacterial properties. The masks containing graphene have been sold with COVID-19 claims. According to the advisory, mask wearers could potentially inhale graphene particles, which may pose health risks. Health Canada has directed all known distributors, importers, and manufacturers to stop selling and to recall the affected products, which include face masks labeled as containing graphene or biomass graphene. The department explains its action to remove graphene-containing masks from the market as a “precautionary approach” until it completes a scientific assessment and has established the safety and effectiveness of these products.

“Health Canada’s preliminary assessment of available research identified that inhaled graphene particles had some potential to cause early lung toxicity in animals,” the department’s advisory states. “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 stresses that several variables, including the amount and duration of exposure and the type and characteristics of the graphene material used, affect the potential to inhale particles and the associated health risks.

A separate medical device recall from Health Canada was posted this week for masks and KN95 masks with biomass graphene. The recall also refers to the potential for wearers to inhale graphene particles from some masks.

A statement (PDF) issued April 9 by the Graphene Council, an organization of graphene producers, researchers, and end-users, expresses concerns about Health Canada’s advisory. The statement refers to the description of a disposable face mask that the council says is “at the center of this issue.”

“The mask appears to be constructed placing the ‘graphene’ layer directly on the wearer’s face through the incorporation into a non-woven fabric layer,” the Graphene Council notes. “Users in the complaints filed in Canada described ‘a feeling of having inhaled hairs or fibers.’ Graphene is not a fibrous material.”

For further details, see Health Canada’s advisory and recall.