Local firm distributes face masks with germ-killing tech

Dr Natasha Mohammed, co-owner of Caribbean Breathalyzer, shows the antimicrobial and reusable face masks the company distributes. Photo courtesy Caribbean Breathalyzer -
Dr Natasha Mohammed, co-owner of Caribbean Breathalyzer, shows the antimicrobial and reusable face masks the company distributes. Photo courtesy Caribbean Breathalyzer -

Since the very beginning of the covid19 pandemic, scientists the world over have been working to find solutions to protect people from the virus. While the latest advances in technology have led to several vaccine options, which are already being administered to bring the world back to something resembling normality, there have also been advances in mask development.

The joint effort of researchers from India and Australia has produced an antiviral, antimicrobial mask which claims to kill the covid19 virus on contact.

Newsday spoke to the owners of Caribbean Breathalyzer, Natasha Mohammed and Sheri Halal, who are distributing the masks in TT.

The NSafe masks use the combined technology of international labs Nanosafe Solutions' copper technology from India and Australia’s Healthguard AMIC cosmetic chemistry.

Nanosafe Solutions in India has developed a copper threading which lines the three layers of the masks. Research suggests that while the virus can live for days on surfaces such as plastic, it is quickly deactivated on copper. Such claims have led to a surge in interest in materials such as bedsheets and items of clothing lined with the metal, well known for its antimicrobial qualities.

Australia’s Healthguard AMIC’s textile technology, which also boasts antiviral benefits, is being applied to materials such as clothing, upholstery, masks and bedding. On its website, the corporation claims that research by the Peter Doherty Institute in Melbourne shows material lined with its technology destroyed the covid19 virus within ten minutes and abolished its infectiousness within an hour.

The NSafe antimicrobial face mask distributed by Caribbean Breathalyzer. The makers of the mask claim it can also kill the covid19 virus on contact. - Ayanna Kinsale

Mohammed and Halal said they did months of research on the product before deciding to introduce it to the local market.

Halal said that was one of the things that took longest.

“We were trying to find the best product at the lowest cost, using the newest technology.”

She said they contacted people all over the world before they found the NSafe mask.

“One of the primary things we focused on was making sure these products were tested and that it does what it says it is doing.”

Even after receiving quality control certifications, which certify the masks as antimicrobial and reusable, they brought samples to the Caribbean Industrial Research Institute (Cariri) and the TT Bureau of Standards – which tested their breathing resistance – for further testing.

Cariri laboratory manager Miguel Andrews said the mask is a good option for local consumers, and while the lab is not equipped with the resources to test its covid19-killing capabilities, it was able to test its filtration.

“It has a good filtration efficiency," he said, though he added, “As with many face masks, there is some leakage around the face.”

Andrews said while everyone was looking for the right material, that is the one problem most mask producers have not solved.

Sheri Halal, co-owner of Caribbean Breathalyzer wears the antimicrobial NSafe Life face mask. - Ayanna Kinsale

Caribbean Breathalyzer got into the business of health and wellness with a focus on harm reduction in 2019, right before the virus breached TT's borders in March 2020. The business sells products geared toward reducing and mitigating the risks of driving while intoxicated.

Its first product is the single-use breathalyser, which can be used to test blood alcohol levels in under five minutes.

“The first aspect of health is prevention,” said Mohammed. “But of course we all have a glass of wine (and) for those who must drink, then have a designated driver.”

She said the breathalyser is simply another measure which can be used to manage the risk.

“There are people who are going to drink and try to drive home. For those people, there is no judgement, but we are realistic about what they are going to do, so this product will help them make an informed decision.”

Mohammed also offers her services as a trained psychiatrist to people who are coping with alcohol dependence and to their families. She has also been dealing with those who are coping with job loss and other stresses caused by covid19.

She said her job requires a lot of compassion.

Breathalyzer machines distributed by Caribbean Breathalyzer. - Ayanna Kinsale

“No stigma, no discrimination, more compassion. We are not trying to beg people to change their behaviours. We are trying to get people to accept where they are and be realistic about what they are going to do.”

She said the idea is if they can save those people, collectively everyone will benefit.

Mohammed said while the business has been around since 2016, it began to focus on harm reduction in 2019 and with the arrival of covid19, decided to expand into products to help combat the spread of the virus.

“Harm reduction is an implemented strategy by the national health services, but of course, people have to work, go to the grocery, to the bank, and the mask is simply a device that can be used to protect not just the person, but the collective.”

The company offers several versions of the mask. The NSafe Life has three copper-lined layers, whose outer layer is coated with the Healthguard AMIC technology. This reusable mask is good for 30 washes and costs $35.

The NSafe Plus and NSafe Kids also have three layers of protection, all coated with the technology. There is also an NSafe Smile option, with a clear window over the mouth to make it easier for those with hearing disabilities to communicate. Mohammed said eight of the NSafe Smile masks have been donated to the Diagnostic Research Therapeutic Centre (Dretchi). These masks come in a pack of two for $150 and are good for 50 washes.

Halal said while the masks can still be worn after being washed, customers will lose the effectiveness of the technology.

The team said they are hoping to get corporate sponsors to donate more NSafe Smile masks to Dretchi and the 10,000-plus people in TT living with hearing impairments, and their families.

They are also hoping teachers and principals will consider the benefits of the mask for children re-entering classrooms.

Single use breathalyzer kits distributed by Caribbean Breathalyzer. PHOTOS BY AYANNA KINSALE - Ayanna Kinsale

“Right now principals are sourcing masks that include school monograms.

"The cloth masks are not going to protect the children. With the new strain, which is 50 (per cent) more contagious, we are in for some rough times,” said Mohammed.

The company also has other breathalyser options and covid19-related products such as handheld thermometers, which it is distributing on behalf of track and field athlete Jehue Gordon, non-contact thermometers and UV-light sanitiser products.

The masks and other products are all available on the company’s website, caribbeanbreathalyzer.com


"Local firm distributes face masks with germ-killing tech"

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