It concerns mouth caps from the Chinese manufacturer Shandong Shengquan. Van Lienden, together with his partners Bernd Damme and Camille van Gestel, supplied 20 million of those masks to the Dutch government for more than 55 million euros. Entrepreneurs now also sell this product to health care providers and private individuals via the site of the Relief Troops Foundation.
The French health authority ANSM sent a letter to hospitals at the end of May advising health care workers to stop wearing Shandong Shenquen masks, until further research is available on the risks of the nanomaterial graphene. The masks are now being recalled.
The Canadian authorities previously advised not to wear graphene masks for the time being. The masks were taken off the market there. The Belgian Superior Health Council did the same.
Several health organizations have called on the European Commission and health authorities in the US to ban the masks. First, there needs to be more research into the risks of graphene. They speak of ‘potentially toxic masks’. “Allowing untested and potentially unsafe masks can have serious health consequences and undermine public confidence.”
Two Dutch professors also spoke out in de Volkskrant last month against the use of the masks.
RIVM ruled last year when purchasing the mouth caps that there was an ‘unacceptable health risk’ and rejected the products. There were also concerns about the use of graphene within the quality team of the National Tools Consortium (LCH). The ministry ignored those signals and allowed the deal with Van Lienden to go ahead. Because the masks had an Irish CE certificate, the ministry found that the items could not be refused.
The mouth caps eventually all disappeared into storage. Last week, Minister for Medical Affairs Van Ark informed the House of Representatives that doubts about the quality played no role in this. Too much stuff had already been purchased, while demand from healthcare decreased.
The Inspectorate SZW, which is responsible in the Netherlands for supervising medical protective equipment, will not take any action as long as no complaints are received. “To our knowledge, this party has not been extradited by the LCH,” said a spokesman. He does not want to say whether the masks can still go from the LCH to the care if demand picks up. ‘We don’t pass judgment on that in advance.’
Minister Van Ark is now having an independent investigation into the deal. The state of affairs surrounding graphene is also ‘included’ in this, according to her spokesperson. Van Lienden and his associates also supplied 20 million other Chinese masks to the government for around 45 million euros. They also ended up in the warehouse.
Van Lienden also sold the masks with graphene to the Buurtzorg organization of entrepreneur Jos de Blok. In a response, De Blok says that his organization has now switched to other mouth caps, but employees may still wear the graphene masks. ‘I can imagine that the masks are still used by some.’
The SZW Inspectorate calls on healthcare workers to report if they have any doubts about their protective equipment. ‘We may then be able to investigate.’
It is certain that there have been concerns about graphene masks within Thuiszorg for some time, especially since Canada has advised against their use. Then de Volkskrant was about to publish about the negative RIVM advice, Van Lienden sent a reassuring email to Thuiszorg.
In the mail, which is in the hands of de Volkskrant, Van Lienden points out that VWS supports the use of the mouth caps. ‘Following a comment from an occupational hygienist from the RIVM, the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport has extensively examined the product quality. In mid-August 2020, the Ministry declared that the product complies with existing laws and regulations. The product is safe to use in and out of healthcare, without worrying about inhaling graphene particles.’
In a short comment to de Volkskrant Van Lienden says that the recall in France is not a cause for extra concern, because the Netherlands and Spain have already conducted additional investigations. This would have shown that the graphene particles cannot detach and therefore do not pose a risk. The CDA member does not respond to the question whether he will continue to sell the masks through his site.