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Face Masks - Protecting the Wearer but Neglecting the Aquatic Environment? A Perspective from Bangladesh

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Document pages: 38 pages

Abstract: In Bangladesh, as with many countries, the spread of COVID-19 made the wearing of single-use face masks, a non-pharmaceutical intervention to reduce viral transmission, surge in popularity amongst the general population. Consequently, irresponsible discarding of used masks into the environment, and mismanagement of the waste they produce, is potentially placing a large pollution burden on aquatic ecosystems in the country. Slow degradation of mask-derived polypropylene and polyethylene fibres creates large reservoirs of microplastic pollutants and these have acute and chronic effects on aquatic organism physiology. Using literature reviews, extrapolation of published data, and field observations, we present an emerging issue of pollution from COVID-19 personal protective equipment such as face masks in Bangladesh. We have estimated the volume of waste generated and document the potential consequences of its improper disposal, and subsequent degradation, in aquaculture ponds within country. In a field survey of 30 ponds in the Muktagacha upazilla, 76.7 were found to have plastics in contact with the water, or within 1m of the pond, and there was an average of 63 pieces of macro-plastic pollution per 5m2. This included floating discarded face masks. Bangladesh has a rich freshwater and marine resource which it depends upon for export trade, nutrition of the population, and jobs. To mitigate potential acute and chronic impacts on aquaculture and the environment, recommendations are made that, if adopted, would reduce entry of microplastics into the aquatic environments via face mask waste mismanagement.

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