The COVID-19 pandemic has been a difficult situation during the past 10 months of the year. A lot of negative effects resulted from it, and the healthcare field was one of the most affected ones. Many facilities around the world became overwhelmed with all the patients they were receiving, and eventually collapsed as they surpassed their capacity, especially during the peaks of the pandemic.
This led to a gigantic increase in the demand for medical supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE). Despite the most incredible efforts to increase the production of these items, shortages were still reported in major healthcare centers across the United States.
For hospitals, it has been hard to find most of these items for sale, and they need to buy them in bulk and wholesale. Not even online stores have them available for sale, leading healthcare centers to buy these supplies from whatever seller is available to them. These items include surgical masks, face shields, KN95 masks, gowns, and gloves. But, the most affected item is certainly the N95 mask, which is also the most necessary one.
This high demand allowed scammers an opportunity to take advantage of the needs of healthcare facilities, with the selling of counterfeit medical supplies being one of the most prominent problems since the beginning of the pandemic. One brand of N95 masks in particular has been targeted the most: 3M N95 masks, with models like the 3M 8511, 3M 8210, and 3M 1860 being particularly used.
To prevent dangerous situations from happening, this article will center on how to identify counterfeit 3M N95 masks.
A brief explanation of N95 masks
N95 masks are widely used in the healthcare field because of their antiviral properties, which exceed those in the traditional surgical masks used in the field. During the pandemic, they’ve represented the most important piece of safety equipment for virus protection in healthcare workers who are closely exposed to the virus.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, or NIOSH for short, is the entity responsible for regulating N95 masks. They establish that face masks marketed as ‘N95’ are those with no oil resistance and a filtration rate of 95% at least. This makes them capable of filtering out airborne particles, which are those with a size of 0.3 micrometers, as long as they don’t contain oil, and with an efficacy of 95%. Some of these particles include dust, smoke, pollen, and also bioaerosols present in the healthcare field, like the flu virus or the novel coronavirus.
To make sure all masks marketed as ‘N95’ perform as they should, NIOSH needs to evaluate them by performing a set of tests. If they meet the requirements they establish, they get the approval by NIOSH to be marketed as an N95 mask because they will perform properly and offer the protection they’re supposed to.
Who is 3M
This American company specializes in the production and distribution of all types of safety equipment used in different work settings. As an American company, they’ve been a big source for medical supplies and PPE in the USA. They’ve also been the main manufacturer of N95 masks around the world, and while they’re headquartered in Maplewood, Minnesota, they have production factories in most places around the globe, particularly in Asia.
To help healthcare centers across the USA meet the demand for medical supplies, they increased their production of N95 masks across the world, and have doubled it since January. They’re currently working towards the goal of producing 2 billion N95 masks by the end of the year around the world, and according to their website, they’re on track to achieve it.
Their main focus has been on prioritizing the domestic supply of N95 masks, increasing the production inside the USA, and prioritizing importation over exportation. Still, shortages have been reported throughout the year.
How to spot a counterfeit 3M mask
The use of counterfeit N95 masks can lead to very serious situations where workers are exposed to the virus very closely thinking they’re protected by the masks, when in fact these are not performing as they should. COVID-19 is potentially deadly for people with certain risk factors, and the use of N95 masks that haven’t been properly regulated is putting not only the wearer at risk but also those around them.
We already explained above that these masks are regulated by an entity called NIOSH, and only those approved by them can be marketed as N95 masks. The seal of approval by NIOSH is the most important thing to look for in N95 respirators when looking for signs of legitimacy. This seal or label can be found within the mask itself or also on the packaging or the instructions. If the mask is counterfeit, the seal won’t be present or the NIOSH acronym can also be misspelled.
If you’re unsure about this, another useful resource is the list of NIOSH-approved N95 masks the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has published on their website. There, you can find all the 3M N95 mask models approved by the entity. Additionally, 3M has available on their website a list of certified 3M distributors.
Other smaller signs can indicate that the N95 masks are counterfeit. For example, a very common mistake these scammers make is to market these respirators to kids, when in reality they shouldn’t be used by children. Also, the use of ear loops instead of head straps, or the addition of decorative accessories or fabrics can indicate that the masks are fake.