Disposable face masks could be reused, thanks to Kiwi engineering academics


Dr Mark Staiger and PhD student Mohammad Sagor Hosen use a blood penetration machine that directs a jet of synthetic blood at the surface of the material.

Supplied

Dr Mark Staiger and PhD student Mohammad Sagor Hosen use a blood penetration machine that directs a jet of synthetic blood at the surface of the material.

Disposable face masks have been vital in the fight against Covid-19 and soon they could be reused under a new system being developed by University of Canterbury researchers.

N95 masks are routinely used by frontline medical workers and staff in New Zealand’s managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) facilities.

Thousands are thrown in the rubbish every day, but scientists are developing disinfection methods that could make multiple uses possible.

University of Canterbury engineers are testing the number of times masks and personal protective equipment (PPE) can be disinfected and reused without compromising the efficacy.

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The system involved directing a jet of synthetic blood at the surface of the material to simulate a scenario that can happen during surgery.

The research team was building a mobile disinfection unit in Taranaki, which could be moved in shipping containers across the country or internationally to wherever it was needed.

Travellers wearing face masks exit the arrivals hall at Auckland International Airport.

David White/Stuff

Travellers wearing face masks exit the arrivals hall at Auckland International Airport.

Associate Professor of materials engineering Dr Mark Staiger said the project had the potential to help cut “mountains” of plastic waste.

“In China alone there are hundreds of thousands of tonnes of PPE going to landfill each day,” he said.

“At the same time, a lot of countries are running out of PPE and are having to reuse PPE multiple times, making the work of medical workers highly risky.”

Staiger and PhD student Mohammad Sagor Hosen had been carrying out extensive mechanical tests of masks and PPE after the disinfection procedure.

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Frontline medical workers needed to feel confident about the disinfected masks, gowns and face shields before reusing them, he said.

“For surgical masks and gowns we need to verify their resistance to blood penetration,” Staiger said.

“We’re also studying the filtration efficiency of N95 masks to make sure they will still block a range of viruses and bacteria.”

The collaborative project, led by Auckland Medical School senior lecturer and paediatrician Dr Yvonne Anderson, received $1.3 million in funding from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and a grant of $46,000 from the Medical Assurance Society Foundation.

The team hoped the disinfection method could be ready before the end of this year.

“If we give it the all-clear then the rest of the team can proceed with field testing. If not, then the project will shift to minimisation of medical waste as its key output,” Staiger said.

Hosen, who is from Bangladesh, had put his PhD research on hold to take part in the project.

He said developing countries like his homeland were in desperate need of PPE to help manage the pandemic and he wanted to use his knowledge and research to support them.



Read More:Disposable face masks could be reused, thanks to Kiwi engineering academics