Current knowledge on the presence, biodegradation, and toxicity of discarded face masks in the environment

Face masks are a source of organic and inorganic contaminants that contains micro (nano)plastics and fibres. The mandatory use of face masks during the COVID-19 pandemic has helped in controlling the spread of virus. However, in the post-pandemic scenario, the incorrect disposal of face masks into the environment has now become an issue of concern that is causing plastic pollution. This study emphasizes the need for a proper risk assessment and management to understand the real implications of face masks on the environment. Also, it is necessary to quantify the abundance and composition of face mask-released contaminants (microplastics/fibres/ chemical compounds) under pre- and post-pandemic conditions, particularly in areas that are highly impacted by face masks pollution. It has been seen that the real contribution of FM to the current plastic pollution issue remains inconclusive and hence, it is necessary to implement methodologies for the quantification and characterisation of FM contaminants under natural settings.

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