April 08, 2021

Health and Environmental Groups Push European and World Leaders to Protect Citizens from Masks Containing Toxic Particle Nanographene

Brussels — Today, leading international health and environmental groups released a letter to European leaders urging immediate action to ban the sale and use of face masks and other personal protective equipment containing nanographene and other nanoparticles. The demand comes days after Canadian health authorities released a public advisory and ban on disposable masks containing nanographene—a material that is potentially toxic for lung health. 

An analysis conducted by the organizations shows that the same masks that are now banned in Canada are for sale on the European market, and the company that produces the masks, Shengquan Group, has publicly shared images of European Commission Ursula von der Leyen wearing their products to their Facebook page. Additional analysis shows that the German state of Hesse has placed an order for 33 million of these same masks.

The organizations express concerns that the Health Canada decision to remove the masks from the market comes after wearers in Quebec complained about breathing difficulties and also a preliminary assessment of research establishing toxicity concerns on valid animal models. They recommend that “the European Union must urgently examine the circumstances of these products’ availability on the European market — including their safety, legality, and the appropriateness of biocidal claims for nanographene while investing in comprehensive research to examine their potential health impacts. Such measures must also be extended to personal protective equipment labeled with “antiviral” claims, as there are similar concerns regarding other nanomaterials used in face masks, including nanosilver and nanometal oxides.”

“Does President Ursula von der Leyen even know what she has been inhaling?” asks David Azoulay, Director of Environmental Health at the Center for International Environmental Law. “We have been raising questions relating to the legality and potential toxicity of nano-treated masks on the EU market with authorities. These pictures starkly show that potentially toxic masks are on the EU market, and being worn by the highest officials. Just as millions of Quebecois school children and workers were unwittingly exposed to this potentially toxic material, we fear many European children and adults may also right now be inhaling nanographene particles into their lungs. Europe must follow Canada and urgently ban these masks containing graphene and start looking at the EU market for other potentially toxic masks. Given the importance of masks for frontline workers and the general population, we cannot allow doubts to spread about the safety of masks being sold on the EU market.” 

Jim Thomas, Research Director of ETC Group, a Canadian-based watchdog who has been pushing for technology assessment and precaution, says, “Face masks are supposed to keep citizens safe not put them at further risk. Rushing untested nanomaterials into millions of face masks is an example of unscrupulous pandemic profiteering. EU President von der Leyen needs to urgently reassure parents, workers and other citizens of Europe that the commission’s commitment to the precautionary principle will not be cast aside to let risky tech companies make a killing in a pandemic.”


Background for editors

  • A concerned Canadian parent first alerted the authorities to the risks of nanographene masks in January 2021.
  • Canada’s ban on nanographene masks sold under the ‘healfiber’ label first broke in Quebec on March 26th after Health Canada sent an urgent memo instructing authorities to stop using them and for parents and schools to store the masks in an isolated place. The memo explained “Health Canada has conducted a preliminary risk assessment which identified a potential for early pulmonary toxicity associated with the inhalation of nanoform graphene. To date, Health Canada has not received data to support the safety and efficacy of face masks containing nanoform graphene". A number of individuals have come forward in Quebec reporting breathing problems, headaches, skin complaints, and other adverse effects from the ‘healfiber’ masks.
  • On April 2nd, Health Canada issued a further public advisory warning, “Do not use face masks labeled to contain graphene or biomass graphene.” And advised the public to “report any breathing difficulties or other adverse health effects.” 
  • A general overview of toxicity concerns regarding nano-graphene in masks by Andrew Maynard, a leading nanotoxicologist.

Media contacts:

Cate Bonacini, Center for International Environmental Law, +001-202-742-5847, press@ciel.org

Jim Thomas, ETC Group, +001-514-516-5759, jim@etcgroup.org

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