New Standards Set to Help Choose Effective COVID-19 Face Masks

| March 1, 2021

VENANGO CO., Pa. (EYT) – For nearly a year, many people have been wearing a variety of face coverings to limit the spread of COVID-19 without definitive guidelines on what masks are best.

That all changed in February when ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) International, an organization that created voluntary performance standards for thousands of consumer products, published the first-ever standard for “barrier face coverings.”

According to Consumer Reports, although it will take some time for companies to begin marketing masks labeled with the new ASTM certification, manufacturers are already able to take advantage of the new standard.

Unlike surgical masks, N95 masks, and other medical-grade personal protective equipment, which have had standards in place for a long time, the new standard is for everyday consumer masks. It is designed to provide a benchmark for manufacturers and the general public.

This new standard (ASTM F3502: Standard Specification for Barrier Face Coverings) is intended to apply to face coverings worn by the general population. It provides guidelines for how well masks should filter out airborne particles. It also provides guidelines for everything from breathability and fit to labeling. The standard will even provide guidance on cleaning and how long a mask can be used.

In order to meet the standard, manufacturers will be required to have their masks tested by an independent third-party lab. Products that pass the testing will be able to be marketed as certified as ASTM-compliant, which will show consumers that those face coverings have been tested to that standard.

There will be two classifications for the mask standard: level one, which is the minimum level required to meet the new standard, and a higher level 2, for face coverings that go beyond the minimum.

At level one, masks will have to be proven, via the testing, to filter out at least 20 percent of particles smaller than a micron, which is roughly the size of the respiratory droplets that generally carry COVID-19.

To reach the level two standard, masks will have to be proven to filter out at least 50 percent of particles smaller than a micron.

While still not as effective as an N95 mask, experts believe ASTM-certified masks will still offer more protection than many of the consumer face coverings currently on the market.

While it will still take some time for products to be tested and receive ASTM certification, experts say snug-fitting masks that completely cover your nose and mouth and don’t have valves or vents are the best way to go in the meantime.

Numerous ASTM PPE standards have previously been recognized internationally by the WHO (World Health Organization) and in the United States by health agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

More information on the barrier face-covering standard is available at www.astm.org/COVID-19 along with 28 other COVID-related standards as part of ASTM International’s ongoing commitment to providing no-cost public access to important ASTM standards used in the production and testing of personal protective equipment to combat the coronavirus public health emergency.


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