A critical synthesis of current peer-reviewed literature on the environmental and human health impacts of COVID-19 PPE litter: New findings and next steps


Since the emergence of Coronavirus disease (COVID-19), the threat of plastic waste pollution has grown exponentially, with a strong attention on the environmental and human health consequences of millions of personal protective equipment (PPE) (e.g., face masks, shields, gloves, and wipes) being used and discarded. In response, a massive research effort has been launched to understand, characterize, and estimate the exposure risks of PPE associated contaminants. While the number of studies examining the impacts of PPE is increasing, this review aimed to provide a quick update on the research conducted to date of this topic, as well as to identify priorities for future research. Specifically, we analyzed recent global peer-reviewed articles on PPE to synthesize methods, control measures, and documented evidence to (1) investigate the discarded PPE in a variety of environments; (2) determine the microplastics discharge in the aquatic environment; (3) examine the intentionally or unintentionally added chemicals in the production of PPE; and (4) assess potential human health hazards and exposure pathways. Despite progress, more research is needed in the future to fully understand the chemical emissions from PPE degradation mechanisms (mechanical, chemical, and biological), as well as the magnitude and density of PPE pollution in the environment.

Authors: Gurusamy Kutralam-Muniasamy, Fermín Pérez-Guevara, V C Shruti
; Full Source: Journal of hazardous materials 2021 Aug 18;422:126945. doi: 10.1016/j.jhazmat.2021.126945.