TORONTO – The use of disposable face masks has resulted in more microplastics in waterways as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, a recent study by Canadian researchers has found.

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Microplastics are tiny plastic particles that are less than 5 millimeters long and are created by destroying plastic products. These particles have been observed to pollute various natural ecosystems, especially the aquatic environment.

study was Published in the Journal of Hazardous Materials in September and included researchers from Concordia University, the University of Regina, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Memorial University. He observed how disposable masks break down in a shoreline environment.

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“With the increasing presence of waste masks on the shoreline, it is critical that the environmental impact of disposable masks on the shoreline environment be assessed in a timely manner,” the authors wrote.

Disposable surgical masks are typically made of a type of plastic called polypropylene and consist of three layers – outer, middle and inner. Many masks also contain some chemical additives, which can also be released into waterways if the mask breaks.

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The researchers exposed the masks to simulated shoreline conditions and observed how the masks broke down. They exposed the mask to UV light for 48 hours while keeping the control group of masks wrapped in aluminum foil.

After 18 hours of UV exposure, the masks showed “obvious deformation or damage” on the inner and outer layers, the researchers wrote. After 36 hours, most of the fibers in all layers of the mask were damaged, forming tiny filaments.

UV exposure results in the release of more than 1.5 million microplastic particles from a single mask, compared to just over 483,000 particles for a mask not exposed to UV.

“Masks have become a part of daily life during and after the pandemic,” Concordia PhD student and lead author Zheng Wang told by phone on Wednesday. Therefore, it is essential to establish strategies to deal with mask waste. “

According to an estimate, an estimated 129 billion face masks are used globally every month June 2020 study Led by Portuguese researchers. Wang says the findings underscore the need for governments, researchers and industry to collaborate and find ways to prevent further pollution in our waterways.

“For the public, we need to raise awareness not to throw away masks randomly. For governments, they need to adopt new rules to establish best practices. For industries, we need to introduce new rules for masks. There is a need to develop new production techniques to develop and reduce biodegradable materials.” environmental impact,” Wang said.