The distribution of more than 5 million cloth masks manufactured by a North Carolina-based company in a Cleveland plant was temporarily halted Monday by Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee over concerns they may contain a harmful chemical.
According to published media reports datelined out of Nashville, the decision to stop the distribution — for now — was confirmed by Gillum Ferguson, a spokesman for the governor.
According to regional media reports, Ferguson said the state has "... paused further distribution" of the free masks to county health departments to allow time for "further inquiry."
Last week, distribution of the masks was suspended by the Hamilton County Health Department, as well as in Shelby County and in Nashville.
In an email to the Cleveland Daily Banner, Amanda Goodhard, public information officer for the Tennessee Department of Health’s Southeast Region Office, confirmed distribution of the face coverings has been stopped temporarily.
“Until more data is made available about the application of Silvadur to these masks, the health departments will no longer be distributing them,” she said.
The decision to halt distribution was made in light of an investigation
conducted by a Nashville television news station that revealed the cloth masks distributed by the state of Tennessee, and manufactured by Renfro Corporation, were treated with Silvadur, anti-microbial agent.
The masks, which are produced at Renfro’s sock plant on Michigan Avenue Road, cost the state some $8.2 million, according to media reports.
According to Nashville's NewsChannel 5 last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's website states that Silvadur can “cause irreversible eye damage" and "cause skin burns."
In addition, EPA said the substance is “harmful if absorbed through skin,” and is “harmful if inhaled.”
The substance is an antimicrobial designed to ward off odors. Other news reports have referred to the chemical as a “pesticide.”
The masks have been distributed throughout state health departments.
In a statement to NewsChannel 5, DuPont, which manufactures the chemical, said, “Silvadur is a safe and trusted technology used to control bacteria, mold and mildew that cause odors on fabric for more than a decade with no adverse health effects.”
“The antimicrobial material applied to treated fabrics, such as face masks or coverings are at such low levels that the use of the fabric poses no risk to consumers,” the company said.
Dupont said Silvadur has been approved by the EPA to control bacteria, mold and mildew that cause odor on fabrics.
“Based on EPA regulations, Silvadur is registered with the agency and classified as a pesticide,” the company stated. “The independent International Oeko-Tex Association conducted a thorough evaluation of the technology, and confirmed SILVADUR™ 930 FLEX Antimicrobial is recognized and listed as an Active Chemical Product, with biological activity, as a formulation that has been assessed to be harmless to human health, provided it is used as indicated and designated.”
DuPont also said its “Microbial Control products, including Silvadur, are not manufactured from nanotechnology nor are nanometer-sized particles intentionally added during any stage of the process."
Additionally, the company said "any reference or reporting that our products are nano-based is false and misleading.”
Earlier this month, Renfro donated 2,000 of the cloth face masks to city of Cleveland and Bradley County first responders to protect them from the COVID-19 contagion.
The 345-employee plant on Michigan Avenue Road is owned by the North Carolina-based Renfro Corporation, the largest manufacturer and retailer of socks in the United States. According to its website, the company manufactures socks for such brands as Carharrt, Copper Sole, Dr. Scholl’s and Fruit of the Loom.
The company is “responsible for 20% of all socks purchased in the United States,” its website states.
The confirmed COVID-19 case count for Tennessee as of Tuesday is 23,554 including 367 deaths, 1,767 hospitalizations and 15,564 recoveries.
Since the COVID-19 outbreak began in Tennessee on March 5, 2% of the total positive cases have resulted in fatalities.
There are 548 new cases, 264 recoveries, 17 hospitalizations and three additional deaths since the TDH last announced the statewide numbers on Sunday.
Since the COVID-19 outbreak in Tennessee, 448,493 individuals have been tested, 12,516 since Sunday.
In Bradley County, the numbers have continued to grow over the past month. As of Monday, 146 individuals have tested positive, up 17 cases since Sunday. Of the total number of cases confirmed since March 20, there have been 99 recoveries and one death.
Confirmed case totals for Bradley County neighbors include:
• Grundy: 31 cases, 26 recoveries and 1 death;
• Hamilton: 872 cases, 278 recoveries and 15 deaths;
• Marion: 42 cases, 31 recoveries and 1 death;
• McMinn: 142 cases, 106 recoveries and 14 deaths;
• Meigs: 26 cases, 21 recoveries and 0 deaths;
• Monroe: 65 cases, 46 recoveries and 2 deaths;
• Polk: 18 cases, 14 recoveries and 0 deaths;
• Rhea: 214 cases, 136 recoveries and 0 deaths; and
• Sequatchie: 15 cases, 12 recoveries and 0 deaths.
Counties with Tennessee's highest numbers of cases include:
• Bedford: 292 cases, 241 recoveries and 4 deaths;
• Bledsoe: 608 cases, 604 recoveries and 1 death;
• Davidson: 5,205 cases, 3,499 recoveries and 62 deaths;
• Knox: 399 cases, 315 recoveries and 5 deaths;
• Lake: 415 cases, 405 recoveries and 0 deaths;
• Madison: 175 cases, 156 recoveries and 2 deaths;
• Montgomery: 274 cases, 123 recoveries and 3 deaths;
• Putnam: 496 cases, 241 recoveries and 5 deaths;
• Rutherford: 1,222 cases, 499 recoveries and 23 deaths;
• Shelby: 5,068 cases, 3,389 recoveries and 111 deaths;
• Sumner: 889 cases, 379 recoveries and 45 deaths;
• Trousdale: 1,395 cases, 1,354 recoveries and 4 deaths;
• Williamson: 555 cases, 353 recoveries and 10 deaths; and
• Wilson: 415 cases, 248 recoveries and 8 deaths.
As of Monday, 105,167 deaths have occurred in the United States as a result of COVID-19, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Since the virus was first announced in the U.S. in January, 1,811,172 individuals have tested positive, with 458,231 recoveries.
Globally, there have been 6,274,642 have tested positive for the COVID-19, resulting in 375,513 deaths and 2,695,729 recoveries, according to Johns Hopkins University.