At the request of Flemish Minister of Economy & Innovation Hilde Crevits, VITO has applied for and received European accreditation for testing high-quality FFP2/FFP3 mouth masks. This enables VITO to test mouth masks against the strictest European quality standards. It is exactly this type of masks that medical and healthcare personnel must wear when they come into contact with COVID positive patients. Hence the high demands placed on both the masks and the tests.

Press release Hilde Crevits
Vice Minister-President of the Flemish Government & Flemish Minister for Economy, Innovation, Work, Social Economy and Agriculture

 "With this accreditation, VITO joins a select club of research organisations in the European Union that are competent for these tests. Wonderful work by our researchers in record time". - Hilde Crevits 

Air quality expertise in function of corona

Flemish Minister of Economy and Innovation Hilde Crevits asked VITO at the beginning of April to obtain accreditation for testing FFP2/FFP3 mouth masks according to the strictest European standard EN149. One of the reasons for this was to support Flemish companies that produce these masks locally and hence do not have to rely on foreign test labs. An important part of the test standard is to check the filtering efficiency for very fine aerosol particles, as a simulation for their protection against the corona virus. This is closely in line with the expertise VITO has built up over many years as an air quality expert, for example in monitoring and remediating aerosol pollution in our living environment.       

Dirk Fransaer, managing director of VITO: "VITO is known for the high quality of research into cleantech and sustainable development. The fact that we could also play an important role in the corona crisis is perhaps somewhat unexpected, but still fits in well with the expertise available within VITO."

Thanks to a swift upgrade of the available test infrastructure, VITO succeeded in obtaining accreditation for the abbreviated Dekra protocol, a light version of the EN149 standard that was temporarily sufficient during the pandemic to bring FFP2/FFP3 mouth masks onto the market in Belgium.

In order to meet the additional requirements of the EN149 standard, further investments were made in knowledge gathering and in specific measuring equipment. The last equipment was installed at VITO in mid-October. Two weeks later, the complete validation file and test protocol were submitted for an audit to BELAC, the Belgian Accreditation Body. One and a half months later and after successful participation in a number of interlabtests, the accreditation for the complete EN149 standard was officially granted to VITO on 8 December.

Race against time

Despite the available expertise at VITO and the state-of-the-art infrastructure of the labs, achieving this complex accreditation in such a short period of time and under the special working conditions due to the corona crisis is a great achievement. The tight timing was required in view of the concrete demand from local producers for validated test reports at the start up of their production.

At the start of the project the available equipment was inventoried in view of the specific requirements of the EN149 standard. Due to the complexity of the standard, VITO modified a number of devices itself, so that they quickly complied with the abbreviated Dekra protocol mentioned above. Another crucial factor in the quality tests of the European test standard EN149 is the simulation of the inhaled air. The existing expertise within VITO regarding the accurate creation and measurement of such aerosol matrices, built up within its role as reference laboratory in Flanders, was a perfect starting point in this respect and allowed for a quick connection to the requirements of the standard. 

Flemish Minister of Economy and Innovation Hilde Crevits: "Mouth masks have become a part of our society. The strategic production of these in Flanders is moving up to speed. Just last week we supported a company to make the filter fabric for mouth masks. Today, with VITO, we also have an institution in Flanders that can test the highest EU quality standards (EN149 standard) of FFP2 and FFP3 mouth masks. Hence we further ensure access to high quality mouth masks for our region".

+32 14 33 53 51