Face Masks: A Danger to Our Planet, Our Children & Ourselves

It seems like only yesterday that a massive campaign against single-use plastic straws was trending. The much forgotten anti-straw trend was based on astronomical numbers; a suggested 500 million straws used each day in the US alone, with more than half a billion plastic straws being consumed and discarded, every day around the entire globe.

An estimated 8.3 billion plastic straws had come to pollute the planet’s beautiful beaches. The backlash against the straws appeared to be drive by the horrific impacts on the marine environment in particular.

Personal protective equipment (PPE) in 2020, in particular face masks, have become a new genre of pollution. The majority of face masks being purchase and disposed of are single-use surgical masks made of melt-blown fabric manufactured from polypropylene, a type of thermoplastic. The vast majority of all disposable face masks being consumed have two outer layers with a filter between them (polypropylene), made from nonwoven plastic fibres. EnerPlex Premium XL 3-... Buy New $18.95 ($6.32 / count) (as of 03:38 EST - Details)

The paper COVID-19 Pandemic Repercussions on the Use and Management of Plastics published June 20, 2020 warns that a “monthly estimated use of 129 billion face masks and 65 billion gloves globally, is resulting in widespread environmental contamination.”

194 billion face masks and gloves equates to well over 6 billion face masks being consumed and discarded each and every day.

Based on the aforementioned paper, six months of face masks alone – equates to seven hundred seventy-four billion, while 12 months of consumption, equates to a stunning one trillion five hundred forty-eight billion face masks.

Meanwhile, “Canada alone has ordered more than 153 million N95 respirators, almost 400 million surgical masks and 18 million non-medical face masks. That doesn’t include demand from the private sector.” As a new emerging market, trees (biological communities invisible to the humancentric eye) cannot only be sacrificed on the altar of “green energy”, we can also pulverize them into face “ecofriendly” masks.

What happened to all those who cared about our environmental crises? That of climate change, biodiversity and ocean pollution?

MICROPLASTICS & HUMAN HEALTH

Microplastics are tiny plastic fragments less than 5 millimeters in diameter, or about 0.2 inches. They are barely visible to the human eye.

The Case Against Masks... Heckenlively, Kent Buy New $12.99 (as of 04:52 EDT - Details) A 2019 study showed that human microplastic consumption ranges from 39,000 to 52,000 particles per day. These estimates increase to 74,000 and 121,000 when inhalation is considered. This amounts to humans ingesting approx. 5 grams of plastic each and every week, 5 grams being the equivalent of a credit card or a US nickel. Earlier in 2019, the European commission’s chief scientific advisers stated:

The evidence [on both environmental and health risks due to microplastics] provides grounds for genuine concern and for precaution to be exercised.”

More recently, on August 17, 2020, researchers analyzed 47 human tissue samples. Traces of microplastics were found in all 47 samples.

We have detected these chemicals of plastics in every single organ that we have investigated.”
senior researcher Rolf Halden, director of the Arizona State University (ASU) Biodesign Center for Environmental Health Engineering

This begs the question, what will be the result from applying microplastic materials, that is face masks, directly and securely over our air passages?

“Flock” is defined as inhaled microfibers of the plastic. “Flock worker’s lung” is an occupational lung disease caused by exposure to flock in manufacturing processes. People who work in flocking manufacturing processes inhale small pieces of the flock fibers, placing them at risk of interstitial lung disease.

Workers exposed to polypropylene flocking particles have developed flock worker’s lung. The presence of microplastics in human lung tissue was outlined by in a 1998 science paper, following the research of lung tissue belonging to cancer patients who had prolonged exposure to plastic fibers. GEER Head Mask Full Fa... Buy New $79.99 (as of 04:45 EDT - Details)

In addition to particle pollution causing damage to lung tissue and reducing lung capacity, it worsens other respiratory health issues such as asthma. In 2013, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, an institution belonging to the World Health Organization, concluded that particle pollution causes lung cancer.

An informal survey of a small group of health care workers by myself found that about 50% of workers noted that their masks began to fray at the end of their shift, noting fibers that itched their face and nose.”
[source]

In occupational flock, “the cutting process results in formation of airborne particles or fibers in the respirable range.” . As facemasks undergo a continuous friction with breathing, talking, and facial movements, it seems likely, if not probable, that microscopic polypropylene microfibers, in some amount, are effectively being ingested into both the body and lungs.

Particles that are not inhaled into the lungs (the vast majority) make their way into our waterways. To be more succinct, every single particle produced, that does not make its way into our bodies, will instead go in to our waterways. The particles are then ingested into the body by humans and non-human life (marine animals and fish), some of which is too, ingested by humans. Of course, in addition, we drink the water, as does non-human life.

…Is this how we protect biodiversity? Is this what we mean by protecting health?

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