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'Exceptional' medical masks using antibacterial indigo developed in northern Japan

A surgical mask made using indigo plants grown in Aomori Prefecture is shown at the Aomori Prefectural Government building on June 12, 2020. (Mainichi/Kanami Ikawa)

AOMORI -- A traditional indigo dye goods producer in this northern Japan city has begun selling highly praised surgical masks that incorporate locally grown antibacterial indigo.

Aomori Ai Sangyo uses "ai" indigo plants grown and cultivated in Aomori Prefecture without the use of agricultural chemicals. The plants are said to have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory qualities, and are often used in air fresheners and soaps. In January, institutions including Hirosaki University in Aomori Prefecture and Tohoku Medical and Pharmaceutical University in the city of Sendai in Miyagi Prefecture revealed the results of joint research, which showed that "Aomori ai" indigo is effective at fighting influenza viruses.

Each mask consists of three layers, the outermost of which contains an antibacterial filter to which an extract from the indigo plants is applied. Inspection services firm Kaken Test Center confirmed that the masks were of the highest-level quality required to certify them for medical usage in surgery and other procedures.

Although the masks were initially intended to be released to the public, they will now be sold exclusively for medical purposes after the testing center recognized their exceptional quality as surgical masks. Aomori Ai Sangyo currently produces 500,000 masks per month.

Takashi Nakamura, a representative of the "Aomori ai" producers' cooperative union, visited and donated 6,000 masks to the Aomori Prefectural Government on June 12. Donations of 2,000 masks each were also made to Aomori City Hospital and a city hospital in Towada, also in Aomori Prefecture.

The representative commented, "We would like the masks to be put to use helping those in medical institutions who are having a hard time responding to the novel coronavirus."

(Japanese original by Kanami Ikawa, Aomori Bureau)

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