New research shows that when used face masks are disposed of in water, potentially dangerous chemical pollutants, including lead, antimony, and copper, are released, a report by news agency ANI said.
The tests, which were done by scientists at Swansea University, used different types of masks, from plain face masks to novelty and festive masks, many of which are being sold currently in several UK retail outlets. The high levels of pollutants contained within the silicon-based and plastic fibres of common disposable face masks.
The study also revealed that micro/nanoparticles and heavy metals were released into water from all the used masks, which were tested.
The study comes at a time the use of one-time masks and the associated waste has increased due to the COVID-19 pandemic, crediting to a new cause of pollution. The research, supported by the Institute for Innovative Materials, Processing and Numerical Technologies (IMPACT) and the SPECIFIC Innovation & Knowledge Centre, was done with an aim to identify the level of toxins present in face masks.
While reiterating that need to wear masks, which is essential to end the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr Sarper Sarp, who led the research, of Swansea University said, " ...we also urgently need more research and regulation on mask production, so we can reduce any risks to the environment and human health," quoted ANI.
Researchers concluded that these pollutants will substantially impact the environment and can cause potential damage to public health. They also said that the repeated exposure to the chemicals could be hazardous as the pollutants have known links to cell death, genotoxicity and cancer formation, the ANI report said.
The scientists suggest that to combat this potential damage, further research needs to be done and subsequent regulations should be in place while manufacturing and testing process.