Tuesday 11 May 2021

Dutch team effort produces safe snorkel mask for intensive care workers

The adapted snorkel mask in action. Photo: Air-wave.org

Can an ordinary snorkel mask play a key role in the fight against coronavirus, particularly in the shortage of protective clothing? Students at Delft University of Technology, hospital staff and private companies are among the groups working together to develop quick and easy solutions using the underwater gear.

The idea of using snorkels is said to have originated in Italy, and Czech and Belgian researchers are also working on the technology. Mariske Toomen, an anesthesiologist at the Haaglanden Medical Centre, and is who is involved in the Dutch project, told the Financieele Dagblad:  ‘Anesthesiologists have a thing about diving. And with breathing apparatus, of course. It’s just up their street,’ she said.

While the Italian project is based on providing emergency respirators for patients, the Dutch one focuses on keeping hospital staff safe.

The snorkel masks are being fitted with a medical filter to block access to the windpipe and a 3D printed coupling piece made by Shell. The result is a mask that completely covers and protects the face. That makes it safer than a separate mask and goggles, particularly during the intubation of patients, a procedure which releases a cloud of virus particles.

‘The chance that virus particles will end up underneath the spatter mask is smaller. The filter can be used for a longer period of time and doctors keep their own mask. It’s just a very good idea,’ Toonen said.

Ventilator

To make the mask safer still a number of companies, including Damen Shipyards, came up with the idea of incorporating a small portable industrial ventilator used by welders, painters and asbestos removers into the design.

‘This will keep the air inside the mask clean and will prevent it from leaking and make breathing easier,’ Joost Kroon, a 3D printing expert at the Shell told the FD. ‘We asked welders and painter to lend us their ventilators. We’re giving them back once this is over.’

The team behind the masks have put their design on an open source website to make production accessible to hospitals around the world.

‘As the severity of the corona virus epidemic needs fast action, we are sharing the designs immediately on an open-source basis, so that the adapted mask can be quickly and easily replicated for use by medical staff around the world,’ the website said.

Availability

The only worry for developers is the continued worldwide availability of the snorkel masks. Decathlon in the Netherlands stopped the sale to private individuals last Wednesday after the Financieele Dagblad got in touch, but some fear photos on social media showing supermarket shoppers wearing the masks could prompt a run.

A spokesman for Decathlon said it was waiting for more guidance from the government.

‘There are many more projects in the world at the moment that involve snorkel masks, for patients with coronavirus as well as doctors, and we don’t know how many they all need,’ the spokesman said. ‘Hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands? Much depends on the numbers, for instance if we should make them available for free or at cost.’

This article was amended on Thursday afternoon to reflect the fact that multiple projects to convert face snorkels are underway.

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