Facemasks: A Looming Microplastic Crisis.Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Jul 01; 18(13)IJ
Single-use disposable facemasks have been used as a preventive measure against the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. However, many researchers have found evidence that these facemasks are being dumped into lakes, rivers, and open garbage dumps. Facemasks have the potential of releasing microplastic fibers into the environment; a phenomenon that has been poorly investigated. Moreover, microplastic fibers composed of plastics have the potential of affecting the flora and fauna of many ecosystems. In this preliminary study, we investigate how many microplastic fibers had been released to the water by KF-AD, KF94, surgical, and FFP1 standard facemasks, which are the most widely available facemask standards in South Korea. The waterbody in our research was mechanically agitated for 24, 48, and 72 h. Findings showed that most of the layers of facemasks are composed of polypropylene. The surgical and KF94 standard facemasks released the highest number of microplastic fibers. Furthermore, under our research conditions, a single facemask can release at least 47 microplastic fibers per day (e.g., KF-AD standard mask), which can lead to the release of at least 1381 million microplastic fibers per day in total in South Korea if 70% of the urban population uses a single mask every day. Moreover, the released microplastic fibers significantly increased when the agitation time extended from 24 to 48 h. This finding suggests that the number of released microplastic fibers is likely to increase drastically.