Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, facemasks have served as a keystone method of reducing the transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. These masks have undoubtedly saved many lives, but due to the immediate nature of the COVID-19 scenario, adequate studies have not been performed on the potential health hazards posed by elongated mask use. In particular, the inhalation of microplastic fibers from the mask material. This study analyses the amount, size, and composition of fibers collected from the use of both reusable and disposable face masks. The results presented are from one, four, and eight hours of continuous use of these masks while simulating human breathing. Each simulation was composed of three facemasks and one blank. Our results showed that fiber particles from masks can be inhaled, and masks marketed as a “reusable cotton face mask” released fibers consisting of cotton and polyester or polyethylene terephthalate (plastic). The blanks contained zero to four fiber particles. This is cause for concern as previous studies have shown that inhaled microplastics may be persistent in the lungs and cause numerous issues from prolonged inflammation; to some studies linking the presence of microplastics in the lungs to cancer.

Student: Austin Dehn