[Editorial Update: 21 Jan, 5:10pm] We have updated the article to reflect clarification from Temasek Foundation. The rating has been changed from unproven to false.
We came across this message on Telegram:
While not a claim per se, the author of the message poses a question – if the face masks given free to citizens are “graphene masks”.
Given that the message was being circulated in a Singapore-based Telegram group, we are assuming that the author is referring to the free masks that Temasek Foundation is offering to every Singapore resident under its Stay Prepared initiative from 10 January 2022.
What are graphene masks?
The reason as to why masks being made of graphene appears to be a cause for concern to the author is due to how in April last year, Health Canada, the Canadian federal department responsible for national public health, urged individuals “not to use face masks that contain graphene, a novel nanomaterial”.
Then, Health Canada’s preliminary assessment of available research identified that “inhaled graphene particles had some potential to cause early lung toxicity in animals”, but noted that “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”. Following the announcement, Health Canada removed graphene-containing masks from the market as a “precautionary approach” while it conducted its assessment to establish the safety and effectiveness of graphene-containing face masks.
However, an update on 13 July revealed that after they had “reviewed the available scientific literature along with data provided by (mask manufacturer) Shandong Shengquan New Materials Co. Ltd.”, they found that the “biomass graphene particles are not shed from these masks in quantities that are likely to cause adverse lung effects”. Thus, sales of four Shandong Shengquan New Materials Co. Ltd. mask models were allowed to resume in Canada.
Later on 28 September, Health Canada further authorised the sale of an additional face mask containing graphene: the Zen Guard Disposable Face Mask With Biocidal Coating, by Trebor Rx Corp.
In a writeup on graphene-containing masks by C. Michael White, a Professor and Head of the Department of Pharmacy Practice, University of Connecticut, we read that graphene has been adopted as a material for mask-making by some due to how it can help prevent the spread of microbes, namely:
- Microscopic graphene particles have sharp edges that mechanically damage viruses and cells as they pass by them.
- Graphene is negatively charged with highly mobile electrons that electrostaticly trap and inactivate some viruses and cells.
- Graphene causes cells to generate oxygen free radicals that can damage them and impairs their cellular metabolism.
He also notes that researchers have been studying the potential negative impacts of inhaling microscopic graphene on mammals, but while in theory, the findings of such studies do “shed light on the possible health impacts of breathing in microscopic graphene”, the reality still stands that the “strength of the evidence about either the benefit of wearing a graphene mask, or the harm of inhaling microscopic graphene as a result of wearing it, is very weak”.
Are new face masks given out to Singapore residents made of graphene?
With that as a background, we refer to Temasek Foundation’s website for more information on the mask, which they refer to as the “MaskPureTM AIR+ Reusable Mask”.
While it is mentioned that the mask provides antimicrobial protection against 99.9% of viruses and bacterial, and more than 95% particulate filtration against PM2.5 and harmful particles, we are unable to find information on the exact materials used to make the mask.
When we reached out to Temasek Foundation, they clarified that the MaskPure™ AIR+ reusable mask is “made of fabric on the exterior, with an inner filter layer made of polypropylene” and that it “does not contain graphene”.
Therefore, the claim that the new masks being given to Singapore residents are made with graphene is false.