As health-care workers continue on the front lines of the novel coronavirus pandemic, quantities of personal protective equipment — particularly masks — have become an issue.
On Sunday, chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said the Canadian government was exploring the possibility of sterilizing masks for reuse.
“It is one of the most important and, I think, worthwhile lines of pursuit for personal protective equipment right now,” she said.
There are several sterilization facilities in Canada that are likely capable of sterilizing N95 masks, most of which are already in the business of sterilizing consumer products, medical supplies, some foods and medical products like cannabis.
One such company, Nordion, along with two other companies owned by Sotera Health — Sterigenics and Nelson Labs — are already working with the Canadian government to evaluate methods to resterilize personal protective equipment.
The companies work with gamma irradiation, which they said acts as an effective method of reducing or eliminating a wide variety of micro-organisms, including viruses.
Another company, Mevex, uses a machine called an electron accelerator. The machine utilizes radiation to break down organisms and hinder a pathogen’s ability to reproduce — thereby killing the bacteria.
Mevex president David Brown told Global News “it’s a complicated process” but that it works and could sterilize “millions” of N95 masks per day.
N95 masks already undergo a round of sterilization after they’re first manufactured. Brown said manufacturers will often send their products to facilities with electron accelerators to kill off any microbes or bacteria that may have attached themselves to the masks while they were being made.
But when it comes to resterilizing, which would mean additional radiation, “we need to understand how they’re contaminated — not just with the microbes, but with whatever else happens during their use.”
He also noted that cleaning and sterilizing a mask are two separate things.
If a mask becomes soiled, either by saliva or dirt, for example, and goes through an electron accelerator, he said the mask will become sterile, but the saliva and dirt would still remain on the mask.