In response to industry and consumer demand created by the COVID-19 pandemic, ASTM International (ASTM) has released a new voluntary standard for the design, labeling, testing, and performance of face coverings. The new standard, ASTM F3502-21, is the first voluntary standard directed at face coverings and “is intended to establish a national baseline” to allow consumers to make more informed decisions about the face covering products they use.

ASTM F3502-21 specifies several test procedures designed to measure sub-micron particulate filtration efficiency, airflow resistance, and leakage. Importantly, the standard requires that all tests be performed by a laboratory accredited under ISO/IEC 17025 to perform the tests. The standard further specifies design requirements, including that face coverings should be made with “non-irritating” and “non-toxic” materials and should not pose a flammability hazard.

The standard also describes labeling and use/care instruction requirements. Face coverings compliant with the standard will be labeled as “MEETS ASTM F3502”, and product packaging will include information identifying the manufacturer and materials used to construct the product. If applicable, product packaging will also include re-use and cleaning instructions. Written instructions will also accompany compliant products and will specify sizing information, how to take the face covering on and off, and how to determine when the face covering should be replaced.

ASTM has made ASTM F3502-21 available to the public via its online reading room, where users can also download a free copy of the standard.

Voluntary standards play a critical role in product safety, particularly when no regulations exist. Because they standardize testing, performance, and safety aspects for products, voluntary standards hold companies to higher safety standards and increase consumer confidence in product safety. The development of ASTM F3502-21 also illustrates how voluntary standards can often address evolving product safety needs more quickly than regulations, which can take years to develop and implement.

Companies manufacturing, selling, or providing face masks to employees should consider requiring compliance with ASTM F3502-21 but also should not lose sight of the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s (CPSC) public statements regarding COVID-19 PPE requirements. As we have previously reported, in October 2020, the CPSC released guidance stating that cloth face masks should comply with the Commission’s flammability, children’s wearing apparel, lead in surface coatings, and written compliance certification regulations.

Although two CPSC Commissioners, Dana Baiocco and Peter Feldman, quickly criticized the CPSC’s statements as a unilateral move taken without briefing of Commissioners or a Commission vote, the guidance remains posted on the Commission’s website. Thus, unless and until the Commission states otherwise, companies should ensure that cloth face coverings are also compliant with the regulations the CPSC guidance identifies as potentially applicable to those products.