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All in all, we carry a chemical cocktail over our nose and mouth that has never been tested for its toxicity and never for any long-term effects.

Mask Requirement

It was the fear of mutants of the Sars-CoV2 virus that led the prime ministers in mid-January to tighten the mask requirement once again. Since then, we have had to wear FFP2 or OP masks in shops and on public transport. And it is precisely these masks that are not suitable for this application, because “what we put over our mouths and noses is actually hazardous waste,” says Prof. Michael Braungart, the scientific director of the Hamburg Environmental Institute. See here.

Even if the fleece of most FFP2 masks appears like paper, it is a thermoplastic: polypropylene. There are also adhesives, binders, antioxidants, UV stabilizers in large quantities. In addition, the researchers from the Hamburg Environmental Institute and the Leuphana University in Lüneburg, where Michael Braungart is Professor of Eco-Design, found volatile organic hydrocarbons in the certified masks.

Some of them also contain large amounts of formaldehyde or aniline and then additionally artificial fragrances which are supposed to mask the unpleasant chemical smell. In the case of the blue dyed surgical masks, cobalt is also usually used as a dye.

All in all, we carry a chemical cocktail over our nose and mouth that has never been tested for its toxicity and never for any long-term effects. And because the chemicals alone don’t seem to be enough, we also inhale microfiber particles that are just the right size to lodge in our lungs or travel further through the body from there.

Chemical Cocktail

The politicians who prescribe us this chemical cocktail with microplastics as masks are starting from completely wrong premises, says Michael Braungart. The same goes for the people who wear the masks:

We think that since this is surgical equipment, it should be healthy. But since most people in China, where most masks are made, have never thought about the environment, they’ll use anything that works. It’s got all the dirt in the world in it.

Michael Braungart, scientific director of the Hamburg Environmental Institute.

The basic problem: The ingredients of the masks are not affected by the approval. Only the functionality is tested. If the mask shows a sufficient filter effect, it is certified. And then mainly old people get a letter from the federal government with two vouchers with which they can pick up six masks each at the pharmacy for an additional payment of two euros. The pharmacies, of all places, make sure that people get their poison cocktail.

The microplastic fibres that detach from the mask fleece are particularly problematic. Michael Braungart’s teams had the masks examined and found precisely those fibres that are the most dangerous according to the definition of the German Social Accident Insurance (DGUV). At “Dust-Info” of the DGUV states, read here:

“Fibrous dusts are airborne particles of inorganic or organic substances that have an elongated geometry. Fibres that have a length of > 5 µm, a diameter < 3 µm and exceed a length-to-diameter ratio of 3:1 play a special role, as only they can penetrate the deeper respiratory tract. Fibers of this geometry are also referred to as WHO fibers.”

On the Accident Insurance net site, there are long instructions from the professional associations on occupational safety when handling such fibres and links to the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, which lists the various TRGS, the technical rules for handling hazardous substances. And it is precisely these hazardous substances that are being prescribed to our faces. Lung damage is also possible without a virus.

What to do?

The chemist and process engineer Michael Braungart recommends placing the FFP2 and surgical masks in the oven for half an hour and heating them to fifty degrees before use. The plastic cannot withstand more, but this temperature is sufficient for a large part of the cocktail of pollutants it contains to evaporate. At least then you won’t be wearing it right under your nose.

Also, we should not wear the masks for a long time. Tests have shown that the abrasion of the microplastic fibres from the mask fleece increases significantly over time. The mechanical stress of putting on and taking off the masks also leads to increased fibre abrasion. Medical or nursing staff who wear the masks only when they go into the operating theatre or intensive care unit, and dispose of the masks when they come out, are exposed to far fewer microfibres than people who have to wear the masks for long journeys or at work for many hours.

In any case, the masks are not suitable for multiple uses. This does not seem to be clear to the federal government, which only provides pensioners with six discounted masks for two full months.

Of course, we could also put a fabric mask, which are no longer allowed in shops and public transport, under the prescribed chemical cocktails and hope that it acts as a filter against microplastics. But then you have two masks on your nose, and that doesn’t make breathing any easier, as you may suspect and self-experiment shows. But with a particularly thin fabric mask it might work.

Solution!

“The only know-how advantage we Europeans have is environmental and health,” says Michael Braungart: “And we should use it!”

So in May, together with women students at Leuphana University, the professor founded a non-profit limited liability company that aims to translate the knowledge about material cycles and materials that is accumulated in the degree courses and worked up in specialist papers into practical applications. The start-up is called Holy Shit and is initially a consulting company for companies that want to convert their products to the “Cradle to Cradle” standard. The Cradle to Cradle principle organises material flows in such a way that no waste is produced, and therefore no pollutants. Read here.

Founded in the middle of the pandemic, the start-up Holy Shit has now also developed a pollutant-free face mask that is completely biodegradable as its first own product. In collaboration with the Swiss company Climatex AG, this Viva Mask is now being produced and distributed by the Bavarian company Viotrade GmbH. It consists – no, not of cotton, but of FSC-certified cellulose. Because unlike cotton, cellulose is not a breeding ground for bacteria, even when worn for long periods of time.

For a long time, the young developers have searched for a suitable material and then gave the mask a double-layered form, in which now still a fleece can be inserted, which meets the FFP2 standard. This is not yet available in a biodegradable form, but it can be removed before washing the mask and reinserted for wearing. Speaking of washing: Fifty times the mask is supposed to withstand that. After that, you can put it in the compost, or directly into the flower pot, say the developers.

Manufacturers are currently working on having the mask combination of cellulose and FFP2 fleece certified. Once this has been achieved, there will be an alternative to the pollutant cocktails of microplastic masks that will also withstand police inspection.

In the meantime, it would be a nice task for the Federal Ministry of Health to check the masks prescribed by the federal and state governments for their harmfulness to health. Maybe Jens Spahn and Lothar Wieler would like to know what they have in their faces. And what long-term damage the mask regulation will cause our health care system in a few years’ time.


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