The UBC Bookstore sells a copper-ion infused reusable mask, but some experts question its effectiveness for the price. At $37.95 each, the mask is the most expensive one that the store sells.
According to the listing, the mask has an antimicrobial copper-ion outer layer.
The mask offers a 99 per cent bacterial filtration efficiency (BFE), a measure used to determine a material’s resistance to passage of bacteria. However, according to Dr. Steven Rogak, an aerosol mechanics professor in the UBC department of mechanical engineering, its construction may not be effective against the coronavirus.
Most particles get filtered in the middle layers of a mask, he said. With copper on the outside, there’s little chance that microbes will come in contact with the copper.
“Therefore, most of the virus is probably going to be in the middle layer and not in contact, and [it] then simply can't contact the copper. So it’s unlikely that’s going to do anything,” said Rogak.
Professor Maurice Ringuette, an associate professor in the cells and system biology department at the University of Toronto, agreed that microbes are unlikely to contact copper once caught in the masks’s middle layers.
Dr. Javad Mostaghimi, a professor in the University of Toronto department of mechanical & industrial engineering, said that copper is a known antibacterial agent.
“Copper works very well. It’s not a secret — people [have known] it for 2,500 years,” said Mostaghimi.
However, Mostaghimi said there is a current lack of literature that validates a similar claim in copper masks.
Rogak said the role of the mask is to trap particles in the material and not necessarily to deactivate a virus. The World Health Organization recommends fabric mask usage in tandem with other hand-washing and physical-distancing precautions.
He suggested that the mask may be more effective than cotton cloth masks due to its 99 per cent BFE, although it may not have gone through as stringent of a testing process as N95 masks.
UBC Bookstore Director Stephen Alb said the store chose to sell the mask because of worldwide supply-chain delays and shortages for N95 and fabric masks. Alb added that the copper mask was approved by SGS, an independent lab, with 99 per cent BFE.
Ringuette added that the website should add the number of washes the mask will remain effective for so the bookstore can justify the price. Some masks can lose their effectiveness after a few washes due to wear and tear of the fabric and weakening of the inner wiring.
Another concern over the bookstore’s copper mask is the price point, which may be unaffordable for some — especially when non-surgical options are offered at cheaper prices.
“The people who are struggling financially, they’re not going to spend close to $40 to wear a mask,” said Ringuette.
The bookstore sells a pack of ten disposable surgical masks for $12.95. But Alb said that comparing the price of the bookstore’s mask with other non-copper masks was inappropriate.
“The copper ion mask was one of the first reusable masks on the market, and one that appeared to have antiviral properties and offer the wearer protection based on studies available up to mid-April 2020,” wrote Alb in a statement.
“The copper ion mask is the third highest selling reusable mask we have. It is inaccurate and misleading to compare the price of a reusable five layer copper ion mask with SGS, to a mask with no filtration standard applied, and a non-medical disposable N95 mask.”