Local researcher comments on long-term effects of improper mask disposal

TULSA, Okla. — If you’ve taken a walk outside, chances are you won’t just see face masks on people’s faces, but masks also littered in streets, parks and parking lots.

Director of Education and Research Ann Money at the Oklahoma Aquarium, says more than 100 billion face masks are used globally every single month. She says groups are finding them washing up on beaches and scuba divers are finding them in our ocean. She says the concern is whether those face masks are being properly disposed of since they’re not recyclable.

Money says masks that are not properly disposed of will most likely end up in our waterways. She says animals can confuse them for food and clog digestive systems. She says these masks are also made up of plastics that are harmful for animals, our environment and humans.

Money says plastics are non-biodegradable and never really break down. She says there are more microplastics in the ocean than zooplankton, an organism at the base of the food chain. These plastics not only have a lot of toxins, but those toxins can also disrupt hormone growth, reproduction, and our over all well-being. Money added, “it’s really affecting coral reef systems, especially.”

Money says it’s important that you are making sure your mask is being disposed of properly and not blowing out of your trash bin. She says reusable face masks can help limit the amount of waste.