'I just now feel a bit betrayed': Quebec teachers and parents respond after potentially toxic masks pulled
MONTREAL -- The Quebec government is asking school boards, daycares and health networks to stop using a type of mask that Health Canada warned can be toxic to the lungs.
People have even been asked to "immediately store the boxes of masks in a secure and isolated location" after the alarming warning.
The grey and blue masks are identified by the code SNN200642 and are from the supplier Metallifer, the province said.
According to a statement provided to CTV News, the province distributed 30.6 million SNN200642 masks to networks under the ministry of family, education and higher education.
Since January, the province has distributed 116 million masks to the school network, 4.6 million of which were of the SNN200642 line.
“It is therefore a small portion of the masks distributed to daycare services and schools,” said public health spokesperson Marjorie Larouche.
Montreal transit workers are the latest to learn they were also given the problematic masks, though not by the province -- the city's transit agency says it did its own tendering process.
In a notice Thursday, a Health Canada director wrote of "a potential emerging risk" with face masks coated with nanoform graphene materials.
The agency "identified a potential for early pulmonary toxicity associated with the inhalation of nanoform graphene," it wrote. It considers the risk the masks pose to be "unacceptable."
The notice didn't explain more about exactly what was found, though it added more details in a subsequent statement, saying it reviewed troubling studies on rats.
"Nanoform graphene" refers to the carbon coating on the masks. It's made of graphene, a type of carbon, in its nano form, meaning extremely miniscule particles in a single tight layer.
In a statement, Metallifer said its company does not manufacture the masks, and that when it imported the products from China, they "were fully qualified at the time."
"Since the beginning of the pandemic, Metallifer has used its vast network of suppliers in China to offer its customers quality protective masks that meet current standards," said Metallifer president Michel Filion.
The company immediately suspended all sales and distribution of the masks and is asking customers to secure the remaining inventory.
One Quebec kindergarten teacher said the recall, which school boards acted on Friday, was upsetting, especially after she'd noticed feeling unwell wearing masks lately.
"I just now feel a bit betrayed that something government-mandated was causing harm to us," said the teacher, who didn't want to be identified.
She believes those particular masks were introduced around Christmas, she said.
She described the feeling of wearing the masks as like "breathing in cat hair."
Wearing masks every day, "I find myself a bit more tired and have headaches more often, and I have heard this from numerous coworkers," she said.
She said she also noticed they smelled plasticky and would use her own medical masks as often as she could.
Several parents have told CTV News that the recalled masks had been given to their children.
"It's really concerning to me," said parent Melissa Nieuwenhof. "To this moment, we really don't have any medical information and it really is leaving us uneasy."
QUEBEC WILL TRACE WHERE THE MASKS WERE SENT
The danger was spotted in a preliminary risk assessment, Health Canada said, and there's an absence of "manufacturer's evidence" to prove the masks are safe.
The notice was addressed to all the provinces' health ministries. In turn, Quebec wrote its own advisory to those within its system.
"In addition to ceasing distribution, networks have also been asked to immediately store the boxes of masks in a secure and isolated location," the province wrote.
"However, they have other masks from other suppliers to ensure the continuity of services."
Quebec authorities also said checks are underway with a government procurement office to "trace the establishments that could have received masks containing this particle."
They also said it's a potential risk and that the government is acting proactively to avoid danger.
-- With reporting from CTV News videojournalist Gabrielle Fahmy