J Hazard Mater. 2021 Jun 5; 411: 124955.
Published online 2020 Dec 30. doi: 10.1016/j.jhazmat.2020.124955
PMCID: PMC7773316 PMID: 33445045
COVID-19: Performance study of microplastic inhalation risk posed by wearing masks
Lu Li,a,1 Xiaoli Zhao,b,1 Zhouyang Li,a and Kang Songa,c,⁎
Wearing face masks has become the new normal worldwide due to the global spread of the coronavirus disease 2019. The inhalation of microplastics due to the wearing of masks has rarely been reported. The present study used different types of commonly used masks to conduct breathing simulation experiments and investigate microplastic inhalation risk. Microplastic inhalation caused by reusing masks that underwent various treatment processes was also tested. Results implied that wearing masks considerably reduces the inhalation risk of particles (e.g., granular microplastics and unknown particles) even when they are worn continuously for 720 h. Surgical, cotton, fashion, and activated carbon masks wearing pose higher fiber-like microplastic inhalation risk, while all masks generally reduced exposure when used under their supposed time (<4 h). N95 poses less fiber-like microplastic inhalation risk. Reusing masks after they underwent different disinfection pretreatment processes can increase the risk of particle (e.g., granular microplastics) and fiber-like microplastic inhalation. Ultraviolet disinfection exerts a relatively weak effect on fiber-like microplastic inhalation, and thus, it can be recommended as a treatment process for reusing masks if proven effective from microbiological standpoint. Wearing an N95 mask reduces the inhalation risk of spherical-type microplastics by 25.5 times compared with not wearing a mask. Graphical Abstract
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