When the COVID-19 pandemic ends, masks will remain intact for decades or even centuries.
There is no doubt that medical masks are definitely one of the hallmarks of the COVID-19 pandemic. Face masks help people protect themselves and each other from the pathogen SARS-CoV-2 virus.
But the other side of the mask is mostly plastic. Therefore, disposable medical masks are bound to become an environmental disaster in the post-epidemic era. Globally, an estimated 129 billion masks are used and discarded every month. This figure is equivalent to 3 million masks per minute.
Masks become waste immediately after being thrown away. From the sidewalks of the streets to the vast oceans, they have always existed and are present all over the world.
Masks have been recorded drifting to deserted islands in the Pacific Ocean. It wears an octopus coat off the coast of France.
Rubber bands can catch turtles, birds and many other animals. The fish may be eating strips of plastic that pop out of the polyester fabric woven on the outside of the mask to keep water out.
Ultimately, human protective masks will once again threaten our health when the materials that make up the masks (mostly plastics) begin to decompose and produce microbes at the microscopic level. seeds and seeds.
In fact, the epidemic has brought huge business opportunities to the plastics industry giant Big Plastics. “The plastics industry sees COVID as an opportunity, reusable plastics are dirty and dangerous, and single-use plastics are needed to stop them,” said John Hocevar, Greenpeace US Ocean Campaign Manager. Safe”. They are safe”. keep us safe”.
Somehow, they got their message across, culminating in a PR campaign in July 2020. The then president and CEO of the Plastics Industry Association testified before the association. . He sees single-use plastic as a healthy need. during the epidemic.
Finally, for the first time in human history, the president of the plastics industry can proudly and boldly declare that “plastics save lives.”
The fear-based media campaign has been a huge success. Global consumption of single-use plastics has increased by 300% in 2021 since the start of the pandemic, according to a report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
With the development of the epidemic, the demand for masks has even increased. In the UK alone, a December 2021 study showed a 9,000% increase in the consumption of disposable face masks.
As more infectious variants of Delta and Omicron emerge, they have prompted public health officials to push for greater use of heavy-duty masks like KN95 and N95.
Catastrophe at the cellular level
As we enter the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, research has not only stalled on the initial concerns of environmentalists, but is starting to spark new ones.
Sarper Sarp, professor of chemical engineering at Swansea University in Wales, conducted a study that looked at the breakdown of nine types of disposable face masks.
After submerging them in water and leaving them alone, Sarp and his team found that the masks were releasing tiny nanoscale plastic particles into the water. The water seeping from these masks is now like contaminated tea.
Studies have shown that single-use masks release heavy metals such as silicon nanoparticles, lead, cadmium, copper, and even arsenic.
Tharp said he was personally surprised by the concentration of hundreds of thousands of toxic particles released by each mask in a short period of time. According to Tharp, the particles may have poisoned entire marine ecosystems, polluting the food chain and freshwater.
The presence of silicon nanoparticles is of particular concern. Silicon is a popular material in healthcare products due to its bactericidal properties and ease of maintenance. “But when it comes to the nanoscale, it’s a whole different story,” Tharp said.
Microplastics are small and harmful to the ecosystem. But they can be filtered out very efficiently by our bodies, from the lungs to the digestive system.
Nanoscale particles are 1000 times smaller than microns. Whether plastic, silicon, or other materials, they can pass through cell walls. In particular, recent research on silicon nanoparticles has shown that as long as they affect a cell’s DNA, they can turn into small cancer-causing bombs.