“Paper” disposable surgical masks are toxic for our bodies and our planet and they are not better than cotton masks
Most people don’t think twice putting on “paper” (disposable medical) masks, but they should. Scientists have found traces of lead, antimony and cadmium - all heavy metals which can be toxic in low doses in “paper” surgical masks. (1) Do you want these toxins on your skin and breathed into your lungs?
Scientists at Swansea University (United Kingdom) found that heavy metals and plastic fibers were released when throwaway masks were submerged in water (1). They said the levels found were in the range of parts per million or parts per billion. Given the long hours we wear our masks, and that our masks get damp with our breaths, we are inhaling these toxic vapors. Over the many hours that we wear our masks, the amount of toxins we breathe in become significant.
Furthermore, “Paper” or surgical masks are everywhere – not only on most people’s faces, they are in the parking lots, on the sidewalks, on the beaches, in the oceans. The heartbreaking truth about this is that what people think is “paper” is actually non-recyclable plastic –polypropylene and polyester, and full of toxins.
The plastic in face masks takes centuries or decades to disintegrate, fragmented into tiny pieces of plastic. A single facemask can release as many as 173,000 microfibers per day into the seas, according to a study in Environmental Advances. Surgical masks are not recyclable in most municipal systems and are considered medical waste. Not only that, they release toxins into our oceans, our marine life, and eventually, into our diets through our consumption of seafood! By not paying attention to the consumption of disposable masks and their impact on the environment, we are the ones who end up suffering.
Scientists from 40 studies document that 129 billion disposable masks are used per month in the world, meaning 3 million masks used per minute. Asia is estimated to throw away 1.8 billion facemasks daily. This leads to very worrisome levels of pollution for our oceans – in non-degradable plastic and in toxins.
Birds have been observed to build nests with surgical masks and others have gotten entangled and died from them. The actual effects of the toxins in the oceans will take some time to understand, but we can imagine that huge amounts of toxins in the oceans and marine life will end up in our plates and in our bodies eventually.
Moreover, disposable “Paper” masks do not filter better then cotton masks under real-life conditions. Under humid conditions, 2-layer 100% cotton masks filter better than ”paper” disposable surgical masks, as reported by the Washington Post, the Smithsonian Institute, and NIST (3). Most other tests claiming that surgical masks filter better than cloth masks where either run under dry conditions (unrealistic since our breaths are humid), or as in a Bangladeshi study, used a cloth mask of inferior quality (cotton-poly blend instead of 100% cotton). Under humid real-life conditions, the Smithsonian and NIST study found that cotton-poly blend masks performed worse than “paper” disposable surgical masks, unlike 2-layer 100% cotton masks. Under real-life 30% humidity conditions, 2-layer 100% cotton masks filter surprisingly better than disposable surgical masks because cotton fibers expand under humidity.
There are no good reasons why anybody would choose a “paper” surgical mask over a 2-layer 100% cotton mask that is designed to be more breathable and comfortable like SmitMask (www.smitmask.com). “Paper” disposable masks are toxic to our health and to the environment, they are uncomfortable (skin irritations, uncomfortable fit, eyeglass fog, smell bad) whereas a good 2-layer 100% cotton mask ergonomically designed for comfort like SmitMask is better for the environment, for our planet, much more comfortable (more breathable, no skin irritations, no eyeglass fog, no sliding around and constant need for adjustment, anti-odor), does not ingest toxins into our lungs, and more economical in the long run. The choice is clear – SmitMask is a much better choice than disposable “paper” surgical masks.
(1) May 4, 2021, British Broadcasting Corporation, “Covid: Disposable masks pose pollutants risk, study finds”
(2) April 14, 2021, National Geographic, ”How to stop discarded face masks from polluting the planet”
(3) Mar 29, 2021, Washington Post: 2-layer 100% Cotton Masks better than Surgical Masks in Real-World conditions "What's Inside All Those Masks?" (citing report from National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Smithsonian’s Museum Conservation Institute)