Migration of Microplastics and Phthalates from Face Masks to Water

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, face masks have been introduced in the complex strategy of infection prevention and control. Face masks consist of plastic polymers and additives such as phthalates. The aim of this study was to evaluate the migration of microplastics (MP) and phthalates from face masks to water. Four types of masks including FFP2 masks and surgical were studied. Masks were first characterized to determine the different layers and the material used for their fabrication. Then, masks were cut into 20 pieces of 0.5 cm2, including all their layers, placed in water, and the migration of MP and phthalates was evaluated according to the conditions stated in EU Regulation No 10/2011 on plastic materials and articles intended to come into contact with food. For MP, the morphological analysis (shape, dimension, particle count) was performed using a stereomicroscope, while the identification of both masks and MP released was conducted using μ-Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy (µ-FT-IR). Migration of phthalates was assessed by ultra-high-performance liquid chromatography coupled to triple quadrupole mass spectrometer (UPLC-MS/MS). Face masks analyzed in the present study were made of atactic polypropylene (PP) as stated by the manufacturer. The μ-FT-IR confirmed that PP and polyamide (PA) were released as fragments, while both PP and polyester (PES) were released as fibers. In addition, 4 phthalates were identified at concentrations between 2.34 and 21.0 µg/mask. This study shows that the migration study can be applied to evaluate the potential release of MP and phthalates from face masks to water and could give a hint for the potential impact of their incorrect disposal on the aquatic resources.