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Officials to pull sub-standard face masks from shelves

There is widespread confusion over the difference between respirators and face masks, say authorities.

Nainen ompelee kankaista hengitysmaskia.
Handmade masks may not be sold with claims that they protect the user from illness, says AVI. Image: Tiina Jutila / Yle

Many of the face masks and respirators on sale in Finland do not meet legal standards, officials warn. In some cases, masks have forged labelling concerning their usage and protection level, according to the Regional State Administrative Agencies (Avi). Avi is placing temporary sales bans on some substandard products.

"Our inspections have turned up personal protective equipment that violates regulations around Finland, and they are remarkably common on the market. The most common shortcoming is the lack of a product testing report and the lack of labelling on the masks. As a result, the consumer cannot tell whether the product has been tested at all," says Antero Nissinen, an occupational safety and health inspector at AVI Northern Finland.

The items to be banned will include masks certified to the Chinese KN95 standard, which cannot legally be sold to consumers in Finland, he says.

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health will decide later whether the items should be permanently taken off the market.

Widespread confusion

According to Nissinen, there is widespread confusion over the difference between respirators and face masks. A respirator is intended to both protect the user from contracting coronavirus and from spreading it, and it can be identified by its CE labelling.

Face masks, on the other hand, are only intended to prevent the wearer from spreading the virus.

"For instance handmade masks cannot be marketed with claims that they protect the user from illness," says Nissinen.

"It is also common to find masks on the market that have fake CE markings or that claim to protect against infection, even though in reality this is not the case," he adds.

The Finnish Safety and Chemicals Agency (Tukes) says that there has been much misleading marketing related to the difference between respirators and face masks.

"During the pandemic we have received about 60 mask-related complaints, most of them related specifically to confusion over the intended use of products. According to the complaints, misleading claims have been made about the protection level of ordinary masks," says Reija Sironen, a senior inspector at Tukes.

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