A Collingwood factory has been producing 500,000 disposable face masks every day this month and it's using new technology approved by Health Canada this year.
Trebor Rx is based in Collingwood because its CEO, George Irwin, lives there. The facility was created in response to the pandemic.
Irwin and his wife contracted COVID-19 in March 2020. He said they were very ill for three weeks and it helped them decide they wanted to do something to help others.
Irwin’s family company is Irwin Toy, but when the provincial and federal governments put out a call for Ontario companies to start making PPE, Irwin answered by creating Trebor Rx.
They started making a new Zen Guard disposable mask in mid-September on a limited basis, and have been making 500,000 per day since the beginning of November, with plans to increase production next month.
The masks they’re making use a graphene treatment developed by ZenTek out of its Guelph research offices, which boasts higher filtration capability than other procedural masks, as well as bacteria/virus inhibiting properties.
In addition to the Raglan Street facility, Trebor also has a factory in Edmonton making the same masks.
Currently, the Collingwood factory employs 15 people and Irwin said he’ll be starting a second shift in December.
The masks are four-ply with one of the layers including the Zentek anti-microbial silver and graphene-oxide coating. Trebor Rx is currently the only company using the coating to make a medical-grade face mask.
“As small as Collingwood is, right now, it’s the centre of the PPE innovative mask industry,” said Irwin. “Our masks compete with anything in the world, that’s pretty special.”
Francis Dube, the executive chairman for Zentek, which is headquartered in Thunder Bay said the graphene coating was designed at its Guelph research facility after COVID-19 hit.
They were already working on applications of graphene for about three-and-half years but pivoted to find uses that would apply to the challenges of the pandemic.
The Zentek coating used in the Trebor Rx masks contains graphene that is taken from graphite.
“Graphite is millions of layers of graphene stacked together,” said Dube. “With graphene you’re literally taking one atomic layer of carbon out at a time … a strand of hair would be about a million layers of graphene thick.”
Oxygen is added to the graphene to make graphene oxide, which has hydrophilic properties — meaning it attracts and holds water droplets.
The coating also includes silver, which has anti-microbial qualities that have been shown to kill or prevent the reproduction of bacteria and viruses.
“It’s a capture and kill technology,” explained Dube.
The mention of graphene, he acknowledged, can make people nervous, particularly because of an earlier Health Canada recall involving graphene-coated masks made in China.
The recall was for a bio-mass graphene-coated mask made by Shandong Shengquan New Materials Co. Ltd. It was issued in April and lifted in July 2021.
“We were not on the market at the time, so the Health Canada recall had nothing to do with us,” said Dube. “But Health Canada did contact us and said … 'we want to see data to see if there’s any graphene or silver coming off your mask.'”
Zentek and Trebor Rx had already completed the regular safety testing required for medical masks, and, at Health Canada’s request, also performed testing to measure any shedding.
Health Canada authorized the Zen Guard disposable face mask made by Trebor Rx for sale in Canada on Sept. 28.
Dube said Zentek is working on more applications of the graphene oxide coating, which could include other PPE like gowns, booties, and gloves.
The Trebor-made masks are available for anyone to purchase via the Trebor Rx website.