Citing EPA, Gov. Lee resumes distribution of free masks to Tennesseans to prevent COVID-19 spread

Staff photo by Troy Stolt / Arthur Rounsaville leans against a support beam at the entrance of Mary Walker Towers after being tested for the coronavirus on Monday, May 18, 2020 in Chattanooga, Tenn. He was wearing one of the state-distributed masks, made by a sock company.

NASHVILLE - Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee announced Wednesday the state is resuming distribution of free face masks treated with an anti-microbial chemical after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency weighed in on a controversy over their safety and said the masks are safe for people to use.

The governor cited EPA's statement to the Knoxville News Sentinel that the agency has evaluated the microbial silver-based product Silvadur 930 Flex used in the masks, which were made from sock material to prevent coronavirus spread. The federal agency said it had "determined that it is safe for use as a materials preservative in textiles or fabric."

"So we are going to continue distribution of those masks," Lee told reporters.

Lee on June 1 halted statewide distribution of the 5 million masks it had purchased from Mount Airy, North Carolina-based Renfro Corp.