Plasticizing compounds in masks do not pose a health risk

Researchers from the Institute for Environmental Diagnosis and Water Studies (IDAEA-CSIC) have analyzed the presence of plasticizing compounds in the masks used to reduce the spread of SARS-CoV-2.

The results of their study, published in the journal Environment International, show that the concentrations of these so-called organophosphate esters (OPE, for its acronym in English) remain below the risk values ​​for human health.

The level of plasticizing compounds released by the different types of masks used against covid is below the risk threshold for human health

“The carcinogenic and non-carcinogenic risks of inhalation of OPEs were always several orders of magnitude lower than threshold levels, indicating that the use of masks is safe with respect to contamination by these compounds,” the authors note.

The team analyzed the levels of 16 plasticizer compounds in various masks: surgical, reusable fabric, FFP2 developed by the CSIC, KN95 and FFP3. They were also made inhalation tests with mannequins to evaluate the proportion of these substances that were released from the mask and that, therefore, could be breathed.

Based on our results and the recommendations for protection against the virus, it is best to use cloth masks in outdoor areas and FFP2 indoors.

Ethel Eljarrat (IDAEA-CSIC)

“The results indicate that reusable cloth masks do not release any of these plasticizers. For their part, surgical masks, FFP2 and FFP3 also show extremely low values ​​of released plasticizers ”, indicates the researcher and author of the study. Ethel Eljarrat.

“Therefore,” he concludes, “based on our results and the recommendations for protection against the virus, the most advisable thing is to use cloth masks in outdoor areas and FFP2 in indoor spaces”.

Impact on the environment

The work also evaluated the environmental impact due to the generation of waste, as well as the release of plasticizing compounds into the environment.

Taking into account the number of masks used worldwide, the authors calculated that they are generated between 0.2 and 6.3 million tons of annual waste, and are released between 20 and 18,000 kilos of organophosphate plasticizers to the environment.

Reusable cloth masks do not release any plasticizer, and they are also the best option from an environmental point of view because they generate the least amount of waste

“Also from the environmental point of view, the best option is the use of reusable masks since they are the ones that generate the least amount of waste. On the other hand, poor management of mask waste can cause plasticizer compounds to end up contaminating aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, which is a serious environmental problem ”, says Eljarrat.

This research is funded by the European Union, through the recovery plan against the effects of covid-19 NextGenerationEU. Within the framework of this plan, the research team formed by Eljarrat and Teresa Moreno will carry out a new study that includes different types of masks that have been appearing on the market in recent months, and evaluating a greater number of plasticizing compounds.


J. Fernández-Arribas, T. Moreno, R. Bartroli, E. Eljarrat. “Covid-19 face masks: a new source of human and environmental exposure to organophosphate esters”. Environment International, 2021

Rights: Creative Commons.

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