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On March 30, 2021, the pseudoscientific website Natural News published a “bombshell” story with the panic-inducing headline “Disposable Blue Face Masks Found To Contain Toxic, Asbestos-Like Substance That Destroys Lungs.” The headline, combined with a stock photo of someone wearing a normal disposable mask, falsely suggested that these extremely common masks were universally found to be health risks. In fact, the reporting Natural News bases its story on concerns specific masks coated with the chemical graphene.
Graphene on disposable masks is uncommon. It is a largely experimental chemical first described by scientists in 2004. Disputed evidence suggests that graphene-containing layers may possess some antiviral properties, and that suggestion led some mask producers to add graphene layers to their product during the COVID-19 pandemic, despite a dearth of evidence for their efficacy or their potential health risks.
The issue of graphene in masks became newsworthy after Health Canada, that country’s public health organization, sent a directive to all Canadian provinces warning of the potential for “early pulmonary toxicity” from a specific type of mask — numbered SNN200642 — imported from China by the Canadian distributor Métallifer. The masks were reportedly met with suspicion by some teachers who received them, and Health Canada “conducted a preliminary risk assessment which revealed a potential for early lung damage associated with inhalation of microscopic graphene particles.”
As it turned out, health officials in Quebec distributed 30.6 million masks “to networks under the ministry of family, education and higher education,” which included 4.6 million (out of a total of 116 million masks distributed to schools) to that province’s school network. On April 2, 2021, the Canadian government issued an advisory notice urging people not to wear “face masks that contain graphene,” citing a lack of scientific evidence for its use:
Until the Department completes a thorough scientific assessment and has established the safety and effectiveness of graphene-containing face masks, it is taking the precautionary approach of removing them from the market while continuing to gather and assess information. Health Canada has directed all known distributors, importers and manufacturers to stop selling and to recall the affected products.
Additionally, Health Canada has written to provinces and territories advising them to stop distribution and use of masks containing graphene. The Department will continue to take appropriate action to stop the import and sale of graphene face masks.
Because a specific subset of “disposable blue face masks” containing graphene has been implicated in potential health risks, but because most masks fitting that description do not have graphene, we rank Natural News’ headline claim a “Mixture” of truth.