ULiège coordinates the Walloon project for the decontamination of surgical masks and respiratory protection FFP2

In Coronavirus

From the outset of the containment, the Walloon Government's aim was to set up a medical mask production line (surgical and FFP2/3 type), as well as a decontamination line so that staff in hospitals and rest and care homes could reuse these masks, avoiding the risk of supply disruption.


he Walloon Government has entrusted the University of Liège with the coordination of this project, bringing together a consortium of Walloon companies specialized in the sterilization and recycling of medical waste or with technologies useful in this context.

Professor Éric Haubruge, Adviser in charge of innovation, regional development, and international relations at the University of Liège (ULiège), is coordinating this Walloon project.

The very positive first results were presented on Saturday, 18 April 2020.

"It is an essential project given the urgency and the current shortage of masks. And it is also important given the current three-fold increase in the price of surgical or respiratory protection masks. For each patient in a COVID unit, hospital staff uses up to 50 masks per day. Millions of additional masks are needed to manage this health crisis! ", explains Éric Haubruge. "This is why, in parallel with production in Wallonia, the proposal to work on the reprocessing of these masks was rapidly put forward."

"By searching the scientific literature, we realized that a decontamination solution was being developed by many countries. Knowing that the WHO recommends a single use of the masks, we had to question the Federal Agency for Medicines and Health Products. The agency asked us to present a protocol, which we quickly did with the University Hospital of Liège (CHU), three partnering companies (Sterigenics, AMB Ecosteryl, and Lasea) and two research centers (Materia Nova and CentexBel)."

The FAMHP then issued national guidelines for the reconditioning of used masks, to which the protocol of the Walloon consortium was a perfect response. "We then had to demonstrate, through our tests, that the integrity and barrier performance of the decontaminated masks remained identical and that the microbial load was reduced to that observed on new masks."

Different techniques are being tested:

  • The treatment by hydrogen peroxide with the CHU of Liège;
  • UV irradiation with Lasea, a spin-off of ULiège, a specialist in high-precision lasers;
  • Plasma treatment with Materia Nova, an approved Research Centre active in the field of new materials, located in Mons;
  • Dry heat treatment, with AMB-Ecosteryl, a Mons company, a world leader in the treatment of hospital waste;
  • Ethylene oxide treatment, with Sterigenics Belgium, a company based in Fleurus and Petit-Rechain that supplies the medical device and pharmaceutical industries with sterilization solutions using ethylene oxide treatment.

Collaborations with Professors Étienne Thiry and Georges Daube (Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, ULiège) have also been initiated in the framework of these tests regarding viral and microbial inactivation.

Also, a partner in the project, Centexbel, the scientific and technical center of the Belgian textile industry located in Grâce-Hollogne, carries out the mask integrity tests.

"The methods show that they correctly eliminate the microbial load. The tests at Centexbel on the barrier function are excellent," says Éric Haubruge.

These positive results will now enable healthcare institutions to set up a protocol for the use of commonly used methods within their facilities. "Treatment methods using hydrogen peroxide or dry heat are relatively easy to access. The results are also very positive for the more innovative methods, such as UV irradiation and plasma, which will also be implemented shortly. »

These tests are conclusive one treatment cycle, except for hydrogen peroxide for which tests over three treatment cycles are also conclusive. However, the masks will have to be individualized for reconditioning.

"Our results are also going to be included in a large international study coordinated by the WHO, in which ULiège is now participating," says Professor Éric Haubruge.


Eric Haubruge


Photo : Gabirel Pahontu for Shutterstock

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