Not only are they uncomfortable, make it hard to breathe, and essentially pointless, but surgical masks worn during the pandemic could have a far unhealthier effect than we all thought. According to a new study published in the Science of the Total Environment, microplastics commonly used in surgical masks have been discovered in the lungs of most people.
Researchers in the United Kingdom looked at lung tissue obtained from study participants and found microplastics in all regions of the lungs, including the deeper section. According to the study, this is the first time microplastics have been found in human lung tissue samples using μFTIR spectroscopy.
The abundance of MPs (microplastics) within samples, significantly above that of blanks, supports human inhalation as a route of environmental exposure. MPs with dimensions as small as 4 μm but also, surprisingly, >2 mm were identified within all lung region samples, with the majority being fibrous and fragmented.
Though the researchers did not confirm the source of the microplastic contamination, the plastic fibers found in the lungs are commonly used in surgical masks.
Researchers identified 39 microplastics in 11 of the 13 lung tissue samples, with an average of 3 microplastics per sample.
There were 12 types of microplastic found in samples.
The 4 microplastics present in the most considerable quantities included:
- polypropylene (PP): found in carpets, clothing, automotive plastics, and surgical masks
- polyethylene terephthalate (PET): present in clothing, beverage, and food containers
- resin: a constituent of protective coating and paints
- polyethylene (PE): a component of food wrappers, milk containers, toys, and detergent bottles
In 2020, the amount of disposable face masks littered into the environment increased by a staggering 9000 percent. Billions of people strapped polypropylene masks to their faces every day for two years and sucked their air through plastic fibers for 8 hours or more. To not have discovered plastic in lungs would have been surprising.
The confirmation of microplastics in the lungs also backs up a study conducted in 2020 which predicted a microplastic inhalation risk posed by wearing masks.
According to researchers in that study, the inhalation risk posed by spherical- and fiber-like microplastics was high while wearing a mask. Unfortunately, researchers in that study continued to recommend the use of plastic masks despite the risk of inhalation.