State says masks appear safe, planning independent investigation

Published: Jun. 1, 2020 at 1:12 PM EDT
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Tennessee officials say they are planning an independent investigation after it was revealed that masks distributed throughout the state were reportedly treated with an anti-microbial agent.

An investigation by Nasvhille CBS affiliate

uncovered the masks were treated with a controversial substance that is registered as a pesticide. The masks were made by Renfro Corporation, a North Carolina-based sock maker. Governor Bill Lee's Unified Command Group said it provided 300,000 masks across the state to municipal and county health departments.

The chemical in question is called Silverdur, an anti-microbial normally used to prevent odors in socks.

State officials said it is up to individuals who already have one of the masks to decide on their own whether or not they want to wear it.

Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey addressed the concerns Tuesday, saying, "We are doing an independent investigation of the Renfro mask ... We have received some information from manufacturers ... So far all indication is that it is safe, and it is used on most fabrics, but until we get that independent assessment we advise people to use them at their discretion," she told media.

Officials with the East Tennessee Regional Health Office said all East Tennessee rural counties will no longer distribute masks supplied by the state due to safety concerns related to the anti-microbial agent used to treat the fabric of the masks.

The 15 rural counties include Scott, Morgan, Campbell, Claiborne, Union, Grainger, Hamblen, Jefferson, Cocke, Sevier, Blount, Loudon, Monroe, Anderson and Roane.

The Knox County Health Department confirmed it distributed 143,254 cloth face coverings it received from the state. KCHD officials said the department stopped distributing the masks on Friday, and officials in Loudon County said they stopped distributing the masks Monday.

"On Friday, we saw a news story covering potential health risks associated with the state's cloth face coverings," said Charity Menefee during Monday's Knox County Health Department press conference. "In light of that news story, we reached out to the state for more information and stopped distributing the masks. We are no longer distributing the face coverings until more information is learned about the anti-microbial that is used on the masks and we have asked our partners to do the same."

According to WTVF NewsChannel 5, a 2010 EPA study concluded, "There is evidence that silver, and in particular nanosilver, is toxic to aquatic and terrestrial organisms ... and may be detrimental to human health."

KCHD reminded everyone that masks can be made from t-shirts, bandannas, or simple cloth fabric.

Officials with the office of the governor told WVLT News that the state spent $495,000 on masks.

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