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Over ten tonnes of face masks detained at customs sheds in Hounslow

Over 5,000 hand sanitisers have been refused entry and ordered to be destroyed, thanks to action by Hounslow Council officials.

Published: Friday, 5th June 2020

Image of a sub standard face mask.

Almost ten and a half tonnes of face masks have been detained at customs sheds across Hounslow while over 5,000 hand sanitisers have been refused entry and ordered to be destroyed, thanks to action by Hounslow Council officials who are on the frontline of the UK’s clampdown on counterfeit products.

The Council’s trading standards team protects unsuspecting consumers by catching any products which are bypassing EU and UK safety laws before they reach shop shelves.

The hand sanitiser products that were refused entry consisted of two different consignments. In one batch of 4,500 bottles the labels did not warn users about possible allergenic ingredients or flammability dangers. The second, for the American market, did not have the correct safety documentation for cosmetic products sold within the EU.

There has been a surge in attempts to import sub-standard face masks into the UK, and Hounslow Council’s trading standards team checks face masks to ensure they comply with safety requirements.

Checks are carried out on leakage (how much of your breath escapes through the mask), carbon dioxide (how much you inhale) and breathing resistance (how easy/hard it is to breath with the mask on).

Officers have found that many of the detained masks are marked with KN95 which is a Chinese safety standard and therefore cannot be used to show compliance with requirements here. Masks labelled with KN95 (and no other safety markings) are refused entry.

A significant proportion of masks have false labelling or faked safety certificates.

Over 3,500 packets of sanitising hand wipes are also currently detained and will be checked by the Council’s team. Hand sanitisers and sanitising hand wipes are checked to ensure they have the correct safety documents to verify the ingredients, e.g. they need to contain a minimum alcohol percentage to be effective against coronavirus

There are also certain ingredients banned in hand sanitising products, while claims made on the labels need to be scrutinised. 

Due to the borough’s proximity to Heathrow Airport, there are a number of customs sheds across Hounslow where imports (often referred by the airport’s Border Force teams) are stored until they have been cleared as safe for sale in the UK. Hounslow’s trading standards team visits these sheds – which are called External Temporary Storage Facilities or ETSFs - and perform safety checks on the products stored there.

Normally, the team is kept busy with checks on toys, electrical goods and cosmetics, and this workload has increased over recent months due to the increase in online shopping. On top of that, due to the pandemic, PPE equipment is coming in thick and fast and needed urgently across the country. This PPE equipment cannot be released into the marketplace until safety checks have been performed and never has the role of the trading standards team been more important as they must balance the need to let vital goods through, with ensuring the same goods will actually do what they’re supposed to and protect the general public from coronavirus.

Cllr Katherine Dunne, Cabinet Member for Communities and Climate Emergency said: “Normally at this time of the year, trading standards teams are looking at items like sunglasses but at the moment, due to coronavirus, there are mountains of PPE coming in. Ensuring this equipment will protect the public from coronavirus is paramount. It’s a huge paper trail exercise to ensure the relevant certificates and test reports are there. Hand sanitisers for example can be quite complex in terms of trading standards checks as there are three different types – cosmetic, biocide and medical. The trading standards team is very busy and a big issue coming down the tracks is how to destroy the PPE equipment which doesn’t pass the tests.”

To report concerns about fake products or false claims made about products, contact Trading Standards via the Citizens Advice consumer service helpline on 0808-223-1133 or via their chat service online https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/consumer/. Alternatively, consumer crimes can be reported online using the LTS reporting tool - http://www.londontradingstandards.org.uk/report-consumer-crime/

Please see videos on our YouTube channel where Cllr Katherine Dunne and Claire Taylor from Hounslow Council’s Trading Standards team look at the protection provided by different face masks:

https://youtu.be/saY_hLsdTUQ

https://youtu.be/HPaWr18dwpw

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