Cloth or N95? New standards will take the guesswork out of choosing the most effective face masks


Americans may soon be able to choose between two clearly labeled levels of face mask protection while browsing store shelves.

The new national mask standard outlines minimum fit, design, performance and testing requirements for face masks and would require user instructions, package labeling and a permanent tag on the product.

ASTM International — an international standards organization — spent seven months conducting expedited testing and review and published its guidance on Tuesday. Experts and industry leaders say the new “Standard Specification for Barrier Face Coverings” has the potential to transform the quality of masks available for personal protection in the American marketplace.

“The new specification for barrier face coverings addresses a key gap and will support consumer confidence when purchasing a face covering that’s labeled as meeting the ASTM standard,” ASTM International told CNN in an email.

ASTM International has already created standards for a number of consumer products, including art supplies like crayons, playgrounds, sports equipment and baby cribs.

Until this point, there were no standards even though masks are highly recommended by US health officials to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

These standards are a joint effort between ASTM International, the National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory (NPPTL), academics, industry stakeholders, government agencies and independent participants.

To meet ASTM standards, manufacturers are required to test their facial coverings in accredited labs to certify performance, register their products and use the outlined ASTM labeling system on their products.

If a mask has ASTM labeling, it means that it meets testing and quality requirements outlined by ASTM. The standard has been created to evaluate only consumer masks. These new standards do not apply to medical masks and respirators used in healthcare settings.

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The Mercury News, 18 February 2021