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Mask pollution threatens waterways and marine life

Published: Jan. 4, 2021 at 7:44 PM EST
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BEAUFORT, N.C. (WITN) - More than 1.5 billion masks may pollute our oceans, according to a report from OceanAsia.

Mayor Rett Newton of the town of Beaufort says masks are already washing up on the waterways.

Newton says he’s already fighting water pollution in the area, but now a new threat to the environment is on the horizon.

“This is not a trash problem. It’s a people problem,” Newton said, “So, the same people that feel comfortable throwing their cigarette butts or their Styrofoam cups and plates, or their plastic bags into our streets or into our waterways, are the same ones that feel comfortable putting their masks in as well.”

And they’re not just showing up in our waterways, UNC Marine Sciences Professor Hans Paerl says they’re everywhere.

“I’ve been taking a lot of bike rides, trying to stay in shape, and I see a lot of these on the road,” Paerl said.

And he says the effects could be detrimental to marine life.

“Eventually, it does get weathered into smalls bits and pieces that basically don’t go away—not very fast anyways,” Paerl said.

And Paerl says it could eventually end up on our plates.

“The animal plankton that eat the algae, then the fish eat the animal plankton, and we eat the fish. So, this stuff gets transported up the food chain,” Paerl said.

So, how do we fix it? You can opt for a cloth mask or dispose of them properly.

And Newton just hopes it doesn’t become a bigger issue.

“We’ve got to reduce the amount of marine debris going into our waterways and damaging our beautiful ecosystems,” Newton said.

And Newton says he’s working on a Harbor Management plan, and he hopes other cities in the east join with him.

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