Latest Consumer Alert
Aug. 6, 2020
Beware of misleading face mask claims
Some KN95 masks fail to offer 95% protection
DES MOINES — Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller warns businesses and consumers to avoid certain types of face masks, which may be sold using deceptive claims and may provide inadequate protection from COVID-19.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all Americans wear cloth face coverings to prevent transmission of the coronavirus and other respiratory diseases. However, the agency has also warned about the sale of counterfeits, as well as respirators that have not met U.S. safety standards.
“I wear a cloth face mask regularly, and I encourage Iowans to do so as well,” Miller said. “Before retailers purchase masks from suppliers, I urge them to practice due diligence and do an online search to ensure they’re buying a safe, quality product.”
On Aug. 1, the Iowa Attorney General’s Office asked Hy-Vee to immediately remove "KN95 Stereo Protective Masks" from its shelves. In a letter, the AG’s office noted several concerns:
The masks, which are manufactured by the Changning Lingjiakang Protective Products Factory in China’s Hunan Province, were the subject of a safety warning and recall order by the Canadian federal government. Canada warned that the masks do not meet the performance standards of a 95% filtration mask and may be a safety risk for workers in health care settings. KN95 masks have not met the standards of the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
The masks are advertised as “protective,” which is misleading. The masks’ packaging contains confusing and nonsensical content, such as "use funny meltblown filter material," and "children under three have low vital capacity and are not recommended."
The masks are priced at $12.99 for a pack of two, while other KN95 masks on Amazon sell for about approximately $3 each. The AG’s office warns that such pricing may violate Iowa’s price-gouging law, which remains in effect during the public health emergency.
Hy-Vee agreed to remove the masks from shelves. The company said the masks were sold in five stores.
“I appreciate that Hy-Vee responded quickly to our concerns and did the right thing,” Miller said. “We understand that merchants have had to scramble to find masks to serve their customers. Our intention is to help retailers and consumers avoid suspect products and claims."
Miller also encourages consumers to find the right face covering for their circumstance:
Cloth face coverings: The CDC says these masks are most likely to reduce the spread of COVID-19 when they are widely used by people in non-medical public settings, in combination with other preventative measures such as social distancing, frequent handwashing, avoiding touching your face, and cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces. The CDC recommends that people wear face masks and maintain social distancing at the same time, in all indoor and outdoor gatherings and public settings. The Iowa Department of Public Health and the CDC have several recommendations on how to wear, wash and make cloth face masks.
N95 respirators and medical masks: An N95 mask or N95 respirator is a particulate-filtering facepiece respirator that meets NIOSH N95 standard of air filtration, meaning that it filters at least 95% of airborne particles. The edges of the N95 respirator are designed to form a seal around the nose and mouth, and require fit testing to be effective. The CDC does not recommend that the general public wear N95 respirators, as these are considered critical supplies reserved for health care workers and other medical first responders.
KN95 masks: The designation “KN95” or “Kn95” generally means the masks are manufactured in China. The CDC, FDA and others have warned health-care professionals that certain KN95 masks may not offer adequate filtration protection. In one case, the U.S. Department of Justice charged a Chinese manufacturer for selling a KN95 mask that filtered out just 22% of particulates.
- Exercise caution in purchasing non-NIOSH approved respirators. A disposable non-NIOSH-approved respirator manufactured in China must be authorized under the FDA’s Emergency Use Authorization to be used in a health-care setting. The FDA has allowed the emergency use of the non-NIOSH approved respirators listed in Appendix A of this authorization. It has removed these products from the list.
- Check the effectiveness of non-approved respirators by searching for the model at the National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory testing site.
- Spot a counterfeit or non-approved respirator. Several federal agencies warn that numerous respirators from outside the U.S. are counterfeit and are falsely marketed and sold in the U.S. as being NIOSH-approved when they are not. These respirators are likely not capable of providing appropriate respiratory protection to health care workers. See how to identify these respirators at this CDC site.
- Find a list of mask manufacturers and devices subject to Health Canada’s recall.
To seek help
Consumers should contact the Consumer Protection Division if they have consumer complaints:
Phone: 515-281-5926 (toll-free number outside of the Des Moines area: 888-777-4590)