Face Masks: Protection or Pollution

Soon after the outbreak of virus COVID-19 pandemic, the first thing made mandatory by WHO was the use of PPE (Personal Protective Equipmens)  including disposable gown, face shields, shoe covers and  most important the face masks and gloves. Such PPE has been important not only for front line workers but face masks and gloves are declared necessary for general public as protection barrier in blocking transmission of this virus which usually follows muco-nasal route of infection. Pertaining to its importance and as a need of the time these disposable masks, and gloves, are manufactured and supplied in tonnes across whole world. In controlling such pandemic situation, health care workers have been working round the clock tirelessly just to give their best to check such viral spread and control this mayhem. But is this only the responsibility of health care workers only to minimize this viral transmission? What about people and their moral duties? When will human beings stop being self-centered?

People are busy in opting high end alternatives to protect themselves from this virus, as is evident from buying expensive hand sanitizer, ultra-respirators, installing sanitizing tunnels, to various fumigation chemicals and what not. But we are lacking a simple habit of safely discarding the used disposable masks or gloves. A new trend has emerged these days that is to buy disposable masks, use it and discard it off on streets, roads, gullies, parking lots and even water bodies or where ever they find it comfortable, thus causing risk to the lives of people, especially children playing on streets. They can accidentally contact the virus.

Earlier this year the Hong-Kong based OceanAsia began voicing similar concerns, after a survey of marine debris in the city’s uninhabited Soko Islands. Such scenes can be clearly seen in our serene Dal Lake also where such disposable mask are floating maybe by direct dumping or by being light weighted such disposable masks are carried away by winds, thus raising a concern. When will we owe our responsibilities towards our society? Despite such mass awareness why we behave as deaf and dumb. Are we again going to put our irresponsibility in the hands of government to curb such acts or shall people take theor own part of responsibility. What, if the used masks or gloves are disposed off properly, it’s better if we incinerate it. This will protect oneself as well as others, as it  can reduce the chances of risking other lives as well as prevent biohazard pollution. Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC) has advised non-quarantined homes and residents to dispose off used masks by disinfecting them with ordinary bleach solution (five per cent) or sodium hypo-chlorite solution (one per cent). Further, wrap and keep in a enclosed bin before handing the mask over to the sanitary worker. This waste must be treated as domestic hazardous waste and should be incinerated. The Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare have indicated that the masks used by patients / care givers / close contacts during home care should be disinfected using ordinary bleach solution (five per cent) or sodium hypochlorite solution (one per cent) and then disposed of either by burning or deep burial.

If we didn’t stop such foolish acts then maybe we would soon get into a serious situation more hazardous than COVID-19 pandemic and it would be named “mask pollution”, adding another item in the already long list of pollutants. It’s time to ponder upon this and educate ourselves, starting from our own family and stop such foolish act. We should avoid littering our discarded masks on open streets.

Faizan Zahoor Wani is MSc. MLT student, SKIMS

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