A new study from the University of Southampton demonstrates a new method of safely cleaning and reusing face mask respirators using advanced low-temperature plasma technology. If there is another shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) among front-line medical staff, this finding can help future pandemic responses by providing emergency plans.
The study published in the journal AIP Advances shows that this technology can remove 99.99% of the coronavirus from contaminated masks while maintaining its ability to filter out harmful air droplets.
The results also show that this technology can reduce about 70% of the plastic waste caused by masks, and reduce the economic burden of low-income countries by reusing masks.
Dr. Min Kwan Kim, a lecturer in astronautics at the University of Southampton, who led the study, said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a high demand for masks, which has led to global challenges in maintaining supply chains. Because they protect frontline healthcare workers from Personal protective equipment is indispensable for COVID-19, so the chronic global shortage of N95 and N99 masks is one of the most urgent threats to our collective ability to save lives from the coronavirus."
“Although most masks are considered single-use, the reuse of masks may need to be considered as a crisis capability strategy to ensure the continued availability of COVID-19 and future epidemics,” he continued.
Although other technologies to purify PPE have been tried, including hydrogen peroxide, ultraviolet radiation, and damp heat, these technologies may have a negative impact on the performance of masks in future use, whether it damages the filter or leaves residues harmful to the skin .
In this latest study, the research team used droplets containing SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) to sample FFP2 and FFP3 masks, which are the most commonly used masks for frontline medical staff. The prototype purification system was then used to apply cold plasma to the sample for 2, 5, and 10 minutes. Then, they tested the samples for the presence of residual SARS-CoV-2, and transmitted sodium chloride aerosol through the samples to monitor the filter performance.
The results show that the samples processed for 10 minutes have been successfully purified, and the researchers found that the filters of the FFP2 and FFP3 masks have no significant effect.
In addition to providing emergency strategies for the health system when the number of hospitalizations increases in the future, it may also have a significant impact on the environment.
Kim continued, “Environmentalists warn that disposable masks are increasing plastic pollution and threatening the health of oceans and marine life. It is estimated that 129 billion disposable masks are used every month worldwide, of which 55 million are used daily in the UK. Most of the used masks are incinerated or sent to landfills. Continued use on such a large scale will affect the UK's ambitions to achieve net zero and reduce plastic waste."
-This press release was originally published on the University of Southampton website
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