One of the few successes to come out of the coronavirus outbreak is a small Cambridge company that supplies more than 70 countries with military-grade face masks that can filter the virus.
Founded five years ago, The Cambridge Mask Company is the brainchild of Chris Dobbing, a former Cambridge University student.
He first had the idea of providing military-grade masks to the general public after going to a Chinese school where he noticed that children were suffering from respiratory problems due to heavy pollution.
Chris said, “I developed the masks after I moved to China in 2012. I worked with a lot of young children in education and a lot of them got really sick from the air pollution. I saw some of the younger ones coloring the sky a rather blue gray in their drawings, which I found really shocking and after having been fortunate enough to grow up in the British countryside. I didn’t think a child should grow up thinking it’s okay to cough all day.
“I started to think about it and realized that around seven million people die from air pollution each year. It is one of the great global health emergencies the world faces – more than all the murders, suicides and car accidents put together. So I really wanted to do something about it. Having served in the Air Force Reserves for three years as a student, I was aware of the technology they use in military masks and was fortunate enough to be able to negotiate the rights exclusive to use it in masks for civilians. So we have had it for five years and since then we have grown to have offices all over the world. “
The masks contain an activated carbon fabric which has been designed by the UK Department of Defense for use in protection against chemical, biological and nuclear warfare.
Cambridge Mask Company now owns the exclusive worldwide rights to this material for use in a consumer anti-pollution mask. In other words, you won’t find it in any other mask outside of the military.
Chris said: “The internal carbon layer is a 100% activated carbon fabric developed by the British military, which is the unique part of it. But there is also an intermediate layer which is a particulate filter and which will remove 99.978% of really tiny particulate solutions, including 2.5 µm, which is a 50th the width of a human hair. “
Their Pro Mask is the product that contains the military grade filters. A mask costs £ 24.95 and lasts between 200-300 hours of use.
Chris says, “For someone who uses the mask for an hour or two a day, it will last three to six months. For what I call heavy users, or people with very severe needs, it would be one per month if they use them whenever they are outside the home. There is a very large community of people in this kind of situation.
“We have a lot of users with serious respiratory illnesses, especially CF or COPD, but many cyclists also wear them to protect them from air pollution.
But also if you have someone sneezing behind you on a plane, it works great against bugs. We sell them to British Airways for distribution to their first class passengers going to Delhi and Beijing. “
They also sell to embassies, the UN and the European Bank for Construction and Development. Chris adds that their next peak in sales is coming to the United States.
Although the product was developed to combat the effects of air pollution, its unique ability to filter viruses has resulted in a surge in demand within the company.
Chris says, “We had to say first come, first serve, which is the only fair way to go. Currently we are sold out until the end of May, although we try to produce them as quickly as possible while maintaining our rigorous quality standards.
The filters are made in the UK and their masks are assembled at our production facilities in Asia.
Chris explained that the company was in talks with the NHS about providing masks to vulnerable patients, but these masks were not suitable for healthcare professionals as hospitals require doctors and nurses to change masks between each. patient.
These masks are designed for long term use, ”he explained. “It wouldn’t make financial sense to throw them away after just one use. “
Demand far exceeds supply, and the company is out of masks until May. Chris says, “We were getting around 1,100 customer service messages each day and 200 phone calls and we only had a few people on our customer service team. We have expanded this squad, but it’s still a struggle.
“We are just focusing on releasing the masks while maintaining our very high quality standards. “
For more information visit https://cambridgemask.com/