The downside of masks

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The downside of masks

LEE DONG-HYUN
The author is deputy editor of the industry 1 team of the JoongAng Ilbo.

In 1951, Phillips Petroleum chemists Paul Hogan and Robert Banks were first to polymerize propylene.

It is synthetic resin built up by the polymerization of propylene, a gaseous compound obtained through the heating of petroleum. Its molecules contain a single pair of carbon atoms connected by a double bond, and through the action of polymerization catalysts, the double bond can be broken into thousands of propylene molecules to form a chain-like polymer. It can be molded and extruded into many plastic products requiring toughness, flexibility, light weight and heat resistance. It is used to make packaging film, textiles and much more.

Melt-blown fabrics — nonwoven or dense microfiber structures acting as a barrier against particles with air permeability essential in Korea Filter face masks — are also made of polypropylene. The fabric is produced through the melt-blown process, from which polymer melt is extruded through small nozzles surrounded by high-speed blowing gas for conversion into continuous filaments. The fine mesh can obstruct the spread of microscopic organisms like bacteria. It can be used for folding masks and cup-shaped masks or go into air and water filters.

More than 10 million KF94 melt-blown masks have been turned out a day in Korea since the Covid-19 outbreak. China has bulked up its daily mask production to 100 million. Nearly 300 million pieces are being made around the globe.

Since it is made out of a chemical compound, it emits environmentally-hazardous carbon and dioxin when burned. If masks are buried, it would take hundreds of years to dissolve naturally. Plastic waste is polluting the earth that much. Masks are thrown away in the streets now that everyone uses one a day. Environmental groups call for separate measures on mask waste.

Veterinarian Mark Walters in his book “Six Modern Plagues and How We Are Causing Them” argues that emerging diseases are the outcome of habitat destruction and other forms of modification natural processes from human activities. Overuse of chemical materials has weakened immunity and caused the evolution of viruses.

If masks cause destruction in the environment and a new type of contagious disease, then mankind must live under a vicious cycle. Masks are necessary for now. But we must seriously contemplate on what to do with the waste.

JoongAng Ilbo, April 10, Page 29

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