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Daily News Blog

03
Jun

Face Masks that Contain Toxic Pesticide Distributed in Tennessee for Coronavirus then Recalled

(Beyond Pesticides, June 3, 2020) While wearing a mask is an important practice to help reduce the chance of Covid-19 infection, a mask produced with pesticide-laden material for Tennessee residents has been identified as elevating the virus’ health risks. The state of Tennessee began last week and then stopped this week providing residents with free face masks made from sock fabric incorporated with antimicrobial silver pesticide. The investigative unit of NewsChannel 5 Nashville uncovered that the masks contain a toxic antimicrobial pesticide. Because of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) interpretation of federal pesticide law, textiles and other materials, typically plastics, infused with toxic antimicrobial substances are not evaluated by the agency for the wide range of exposure patterns associated with the use of these toxic products. In addition, the silver product in the sock material, Silvadur 930 Flex, states on its label that over 99% of product ingredients are “other ingredients” and provides no disclosure on their potential hazards.

Beyond Pesticides’ board member Warren Porter, PhD, environmental toxicology professor at University of Wisconsin at Madison, in an interview with NewsChannel 5, assessed the situation bluntly. Dr. Porter told reporters over a Zoom interview, “I wouldn’t wear one,” after explaining the potential impacts on the respiratory system.

A day after the second piece on the masks aired, with the support of Beyond Pesticides’ staff, Governor Bill Lee (R) recalled the masks after the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators called for a recall of the masks and an investigation. “We know that many people in some of our more disadvantaged communities took advantage of the giveaway and now we need to protect them from the protection they believed we were providing for them,” Rep. G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis told Channel 5. “We are concerned that many of those people may have health issues that may have become aggravated by the masks.”

The masks, dubbed “sock masks” because the state contracted with a sock production company to fabricate them, are impregnated with the pesticide product Silvadur 930 flex. Containing silver as an active ingredient, Silvadur and other similar products are registered for use in consumer goods like carpet, footwear, wall and floor coverings, and other industrial and household fabrics. Its use is intended to inhibit the growth of microbes that may cause “deterioration of the treated product.” DowDupont, the primary registrant for Silvadur and associated products, includes on its website for the product line a banner that reads “Trusted and Safe.” Dr. Porter disagrees with that statement.

“You start messing around with DNA, which is the genetic material controlling your cell operations, you interfere with the messaging and bugger up the communication that goes on in cells, like I say, you’ve got a molecular bull in a china shop,” Dr. Porter told NewsChannel 5. “There are all kinds of ways that it can disrupt cellular activity.”

Under 40 CFR 156.10(a)(5)(ix) pesticide manufacturers are prohibited from asserting that a pesticide is “safe” without a qualifying phrase such as “when used as directed.” Silver can be absorbed into the lungs, and excessive exposure can cause lung or kidney lesions, according to prior EPA data. Silvadur’s label indicates it causes moderate eye irritation, and instructs those in contact to “wash thoroughly…before eating,drinking, chewing gum, using tobacco, or using the toilet.”

Asked about the risk of having Silvadur products so close to one’s nose and mouth, Dr. Porter responded, “That would definitely be more vulnerable because you’ve got all your respiratory surfaces and a lot of things that can get through those respiratory surfaces.”

Although Governor Lee’s efforts to protect residents from Covid-19 by encouraging the use of face masks may have been well placed, as Beyond Pesticides has urged throughout the coronavirus pandemic, it is critical to avoid the use of toxic pesticides that may further undermine respiratory or immune system health. This is true whether it comes to the use of disinfectants, or attempts to manage mosquito vector diseases.

Reporters for News Channel 5 asked Dr. Porter, “If you were advising the governor of the state of Tennessee, what would you advise him about these masks?”

“Well,” he responded, “I would advise him to try to get his money back.”

Shortly after the NewsChannel5 piece ran, officials in Nashville’s Metro Public Health Department announced they would postpone distribution of the silver-tainted masks “out of an abundance of caution” and to “allow Metro Health officials to learn more about the masks from state officials.”

Impregnating any consumer fabric with potentially hazardous antimicrobials is an unnecessary measure. However, the pesticide industry has long played on consumers fears of bacteria in order to find new markets for its risky products. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends simple cloth face coverings to protect against coronavirus (see here for the recommendation and how to make your own face covering). Watch out and avoid any clothing that markets “extra protection” in the form of a patented antimicrobial.

Underlying a serious public health threat associated with inhaling antimicrobial silver, there is a serious policy issue behind this story. The sock and mask manufacturer, Renfro, responded to the TV piece by distinguishing its use of Silvadur 930 Flex silver antimicrobial pesticide from another silver antimicrobial, Silvadur, claiming that its product is “safe.” The only difference on the labels of these products is the percentage of silver. While claiming safety, the manufacturer admits that the pesticide washes out of the fabric.

All these products treated with antimicrobials are not regulated by EPA unless they are making a public health claim—under what is known as the “treated article exemption.” The manufacturer exclaiming the safety of the sock material does not disclose the exemption from exposure reviews that its socks (as do other antimicrobial incorporated products) enjoy. Renfro notes that the toxic antimicrobials are “used for inhibiting microbial growth in order to reduce odor on textiles and garments.” EPA does not look at exposure patterns associated with the treated textiles. Beyond Pesticides has long told EPA that it is an outrage not to evaluate the exposure patterns associated with textiles incorporated with pesticides. See EPA’s explanation of the treated article exemption. Beyond Pesticides maintains that this EPA failure allows manufacturers to mislead the public on product safety and efficacy.

For more information on the hazards associated with many antimicrobials registered as pesticides, as well as proper safety measures to clean surfaces of coronavirus, see Beyond Pesticides’ program page on Disinfectants, Antimicrobials, and Sanitizers.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

 Source: NewsChannel5 Nashville

 

 

 

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