PPE pollution: Video shows divers removing masks and gloves from ocean

The high demand for personal protective equipment amid shortages caused by the coronavirus pandemic may have unintended consequences to the environment, as one European environmental group pointed out in a video that has surfaced on social media showing divers removing masks and gloves from the ocean. 

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The video was posted on Facebook by Opération Mer Propre (Operation Clean Sea) during a cleanup effort by the group in which divers removed disposable surgical masks and latex gloves among a heap of plastic bottles and even a plastic water fountain. 

 “Soon there will be more masks than jellyfish in the waters of the Mediterranean…!” said the group’s founder, Laurent Lombard. 

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“The health crisis has allowed us to see the best and worst in us. If we do nothing, it’s the worst that will happen when it’s simply a matter of common sense to avoid all of this,” Lombard added.

An environmental group in France found masks and gloves littered in the ocean during a cleanup effort. (Credit: Opération Mer Propre via Storyful)

While before-and-after photos released by NASA in April appeared to show significant reductions in air pollution as a result of millions of people around the world remaining indoors under self-quarantine, the video posted by “Operation Clean Sea,” presents a new problem that may arise out of the ongoing crisis. 

Millions of tons of disposable supplies have been produced to meet the demands needed to combat the novel coronavirus. Fashionable face coverings are now readily available for purchase from street vendors and small businesses all over the world, and while they may protect people from the deadly virus, many of them will end up as waste.

In the midst of the crisis, mindfulness of where disposable equipment ends up is becoming increasingly important as residents around the world report seeing their neighborhoods riddled with PPE litter.  

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In Canada, a spokesperson for the City of Calgary told The Canadian Press that there has been a rise in complaints as well as social media posts showing parking spots littered with PPE.

The Twitter account for the City of Malibu announced that residents reported seeing used surgical gloves and masks in parking lots and on sidewalks.

“Remember, if you don’t pick up your used gloves, someone else has to,” the post read. 

One New York resident posted a picture on Twitter of surgical gloves and masks thrown on the ground.

An animal hospital in Philadelphia warned residents after a cat that was brought into their facility died after a plastic glove was surgically removed from the animal’s intestines. 

The Philadelphia Animal Care and Control Team (ACCT) said that "Pets like Foxxy or wildlife may swallow them thinking that they are toys or food, and the very items meant to keep us safe, can be fatal to them if eaten."

This story was reported in Los Angeles.