After the coronavirus emerged in China in 2019, the need for masks has been constantly growing as everyone needed as much protection as possible. However, due to the sudden increase in mask use, manufacturers were unable to meet the demands of their customers. Why did it take so long for the mask-making industry to meet consumers’ need for masks? Let’s find out now.
The first process of creating a mask is designing. A company must determine the type of filter that they want to use, the material needed, and the final design of the face mask making sure that the mask is breathable and comfortable enough to attract customers. However, during the entire process, companies must keep in mind that the mask must be certified by various sources such as the FDA in order to produce surgical face masks or N95 masks and label them as such.
Once the mask itself has been designed and a prototype has been created, it must undergo a thorough certification process. It must first pass the standards of government agencies such as the FDA or NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health). During this pandemic, however, previous conditions have been loosened as the FDA issued an EUA, an emergency use authorization, in order to increase the production of masks. The EUA allows mask manufacturers to produce masks that aren’t FDA approved and sell them to the public but only after they have been labelled as face masks not intended for surgical purposes or to provide liquid protection and more. However, if they have been FDA approved the conditions mentioned previously as a result of the EUA would not apply. Masks are classified as Limited Protection and Level 1, 2, or 3 after undergoing ASTM (the American Society for Testing and Materials) testing based on its protection from aerosols, gas, etc. and the fluid resistance per mmHg. To be labelled as a surgical mask, the masks must undergo various types of testing. Examples being testing bacteria filtration efficiency in vitro (BFE), Particle Filtration Efficiency, breathing resistance, splash resistance, and flammability with flammability also being divided into Levels 1, 2, and 3 by the ASTM.
Surgical masks are mostly created by a material called polypropylene but can also be created by other non-woven fabrics. Shortage of polypropylene was part of the reason for the slow mask production process in the beginning of the pandemic. As well as the filtering fabric, companies must also make sure to acquire other needed materials such as the metal or wire nose pieces and the elastic straps. The mask is created through SMS (spunbond-meltblown-spunbond) technology in order to create the three layer fabric used in the body of the masks. The top layer is made up of the spunbond polypropylene for protection from external water droplets, the middle layer is meltblown polypropylene that acts as a filter, and the inner spunbond polypropylene layer. After the three layers have been welded into one, the metal/wire line is inserted into the mask, and finally, the elastic straps are welded onto the four corners of the surgical mask.
Only after this lengthy process is the surgical mask finally made available to the public. Now that you have seen for yourself the safety guaranteed through the production of surgical masks, you no longer have to be skeptical when buying your masks. If you want the quality of your masks to be ensured, from now on when choosing your facial masks, make sure to check the ASTM classification to make sure that you are getting the amount of protection that you would like. Remember this, Level 1 provides protection against 80mmHg of fluids and is meant for a low risk situation that doesn’t involve aerosols, Level 2 for 120mmHg fluid resistance and moderate amounts of fluid, aerosols, etc, and finally Level 3 for 160mmHg of fluid resistance and maximum possible exposure to fluids, aerosols, and spray.