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New Mask Mandates Raise Concerns Amidst Reports of Hidden Dangers in Some Masks

Payam Javan: As the return of mask mandates and concerns about a new COVID-19 variant capture headlines, recent studies shed light on potential hazards associated with certain types of masks. Despite the end of the national COVID-19 emergency, institutions like Rutgers in New Jersey and Morris Brown College in Atlanta are reinstating mask requirements for their campuses, while the Upstate Hospital in Syracuse, New York, has followed suit.

The BA.2.86 variant’s emergence is causing worry due to its potential to elude existing immunity, sparking renewed discussions about mask usage. Dr. Jonathan Reiner of George Washington University School of Medicine & Health Sciences advised considering masks in public, especially for caregivers of high-risk individuals.

However, a study released in the Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety journal, published through the National Institutes of Health, highlights the varying safety levels of different masks. This study suggests that certain masks could pose hidden dangers by releasing chemicals linked to seizures and cancer.

The study noted that masks from South Korea, specifically the KF94 masks, exhibited significantly higher levels of toxic chemicals compared to masks made from materials like cotton. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted by KF94 masks were found to be about 14 times higher than those released by cotton masks. The report indicated that warmer weather could exacerbate the release of these toxic compounds.

The study underscored the importance of monitoring VOCs associated with mask usage and their potential impact on human health, particularly emphasizing the need for caution with KF94 masks.

The U.K. Daily Mail reported that the Environmental Protection Agency recommends keeping total VOC levels below 0.5 parts per million indoors. The study identified masks with VOC levels surpassing 4.8 parts per million, significantly exceeding the EPA’s limit.

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Dr. Stuart Fischer of New York cautioned that while the study is not conclusive, it raises questions about the necessity of widespread mask mandates. He suggested that the initial extreme response to COVID-19 may have led to counterproductive decisions and emphasized the importance of balanced policies that provide reasonable protection without fracturing society.

Research from the Cochrane Institute, based on 78 studies, concluded that masks made “little to no difference” in COVID-19 infection rates and deaths. This adds to the ongoing debate over the effectiveness of masks in combating the pandemic.

Amidst the resurgence of mask mandates and concerns over the new variant, these recent studies cast a spotlight on potential risks associated with certain mask types, urging a cautious approach to mask usage policies moving forward.

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