The COVID-19 pandemic has created an unprecedented demand for medical personal protective equipment (PPE). This is particularly true for procedure or surgical type masks and NIOSH-type (e.g., N95) respirators. While government procurements have focused on manufacturers and importers of PPE, little attention was paid to establishing suitable test facilities to ensure that PPE would provide adequate protection to personnel using them. Organizations like the National Research Council established some capability, but this was greatly overshadowed by demand from industry.
As the COVID-19 pandemic worsened, the media reported countless stories of questionable PPE performance from imported supplies, and counterfeit products flooded the market. With laboratories in the United States supplying nearly all of the North American and worldwide respiratory PPE testing, limited options existed for the surplus testing needs when supplies were needed most. Existing laboratories and government agencies struggled to deal with the volume of testing required. With the performance of many masks unknown, and with the demand for supplies increasing, many stockpiles were quarantined until testing could be performed. It became quickly apparent to many organizations throughout Canada that a domestic solution was needed.
In response to the unprecedented need for testing, a Toronto-based company, primarily supporting the electricity generation, transmission and distribution industries with engineering, testing, inspection, and certification services stepped up to provide the much-needed testing for medical respiratory PPE. The team of scientists, engineers, technicians, and other professionals at Kinectrics, a Canadian-owned and headquartered business, has worked to establish a comprehensive suite of testing under ASTM F2100, Standard Specification for Performance of Materials Used in Medical Face Masks. This specification includes the conduct of tests for: ASTM F2101 (Bacterial Filtration Efficiency), ASTM F1862 (Resistance to Blood Penetration), ASTM F2299 (Sub-micron particulate filtration), EN14683:2019 Annex C (Differential Pressure), 16 CFR Part 1610 (Flammability). The company has also established testing of NIOSH-Type respirator testing (e.g., N95, or KN95 masks) in accordance with 42 CFR Part 84 which includes differential pressure testing and particulate filtration efficiency. Also available is fluid resistance and bacteria filtration efficiency (for NIOSH-type respirators), and a specialized test for microbial cleanliness (or bioburden) in compliance with EN 14683:2019 Annex D.
So just how did a company that focuses on products and services for the electricity industry become the first lab in Canada to support all aspects of medical mask testing? Kinectrics has a long-standing history of innovation and responding to the needs of customers and their communities. With its roots as the technical and research division of Ontario Hydro, formerly known as Ontario Hydro Research Division, Kinectrics has operated as a private company since 2000 and has expanded nearly 6 times since that period. Kinectrics focuses on provision of sustainable and innovative solutions through world-class facilities, industry-leading experts, and effective processes. Kinectrics saw the need in its communities for medical mask testing, and their staff came forward with the idea to take existing expertise from testing of HEPA ventilation systems in power plants and industrial respirators and apply that to medical masks. With support of the Innovation Hub within Kinectrics, the team quickly moved to procure the necessary equipment and develop testing procedures while the world’s supply of test equipment became hard to find alongside dwindling inventories of approved medical masks.
Kinectrics was able to quickly mobilize their teams to respond to the community need for testing. In just over a month, Kinectrics took an idea, developed the business case, procured equipment, developed test procedures, and commissioned that equipment for use. This initiative was funded by Kinectrics, based on a recognition of need and a commitment to responsible, long-term support to Canadian industry and communities. This “Made in Ontario” model will ensure a long-term stable supply of testing to the Province, and to the rest of Canada.
Since establishing the test capability, Kinectrics has tested many different types of masks. From experimental masks made from low-cost cardboard to high-tech fibres including antimicrobial properties, Kinectrics has provided R&D-related testing for new designs, initial qualification testing for manufacturers and importers, and quality assurance testing for production quantities. The team continues to expand services as capacity to ensure that industry has high-performing respiratory PPE that will allow the economy to reopen, and to protect our most vulnerable workers and the general public. In addition to manufacturers and importers, Kinectrics is providing testing services to organizations such as hospitals and healthcare networks, dental and family medical practices, general offices, manufacturing facilities, and other workplaces who need to ensure that their personnel are protected with good quality PPE.
Kinectrics, a Canadian-owned and headquartered business, with a global footprint, is working to support the medical PPE needs of frontline workers in the fight against COVID-19, while maintaining essential services to the electricity industry. For more information about Kinectrics’ medical PPE testing, visit www.kinectrics.com/medicalppetesting.