Disposable surgical/medical face masks and filtering face pieces: Source of microplastics and chemical additives in the environment

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The production and consumption of disposable face masks (DFMs) increased intensely during the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to a high amount of them being found in the terrestrial and aquatic environment. The main goal of this research study is to conduct a comparative evaluation of the water-leachability of microplastics (MPs) and chemical additives from various types of disposable surgical/medical face masks (MM DFMs) and filtering face pieces (FFPs). Fourier-Transform Infrared Spectroscopy was used for MPs analysis. Liquid Chromatography/High Resolution Mass Spectrometry was used to analyse analytes presented in the water-leachates of DFMs. FFPs released 3-4 times more microplastic particles compared to MM DFMs. The release of MPs into water from all tested DFMs without mechanical stress suggests potential MP contamination originating from the DFM production process. Our study for the first time identified bisphenol B (0.25-0.42 μg/L) and 1,4-bis(2-ethylhexyl) sulfosuccinate (163.9-115.0 μg/L) as leachables from MM DFMs. MPs in the water-leachates vary in size, with predominant particles MMII > FFP3>FFP2>MMI. The main type of microplastics identified in the water leachates of the investigated face masks was polypropylene, accounting for 93-97% for MM DFMs and 82-83% for FFPs. Other polymers such as polyethylene, polycarbonate, polyester/polyethylene terephthalate, polyamide/Nylon, polyvinylchloride, and ethylene-propylene copolymer were also identified, but in smaller amounts. FFPs released a wider variety and a higher percentage (17-18%) of other polymers compared to MM DFMs (3-7%). Fragments and fibres were identified in all water-leachate samples, and fragments, particularly debris of polypropylene fibres, were the most common MP morphotype. The findings in this study are important in contributing additional data to develop science-based policy recommendations on the health and environmental impacts of MPs and associated chemical additives originated from DFMs. [Abstract copyright: Copyright © 2024. Published by Elsevier Ltd.]
Original languageEnglish
Article number123792
Number of pages10
JournalEnvironmental Pollution
Early online date20 Mar 2024
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2024


  • MPs
  • Microfibre
  • Fragment
  • Plastic pollution
  • Bisphenols
  • Pandemic


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