Effects of microplastics from disposable medical masks on terrestrial invertebrates

Jemec Kokalj A, Dolar A, Drobne D, Škrlep Š, Sever Škapin A, Marolt G, Nagode A, A.M. van Gestel Cornelis
[ site ] Journal of Hazardous Materials, 2022

This study investigated impacts of microplastics from disposable polypropylene medical masks on woodlice Porcellio scaber, mealworm larvae Tenebrio molitor and enchytraeids Enchytraeus crypticus. Effects of microplastics on survival, reproduction, immune parameters and energy-related traits were assessed after 21 days exposure in soil. Microplastics obtained from each medical mask layer separately differed in size and shape (inner frontal layer: 45.1 ± 21.5 µm, fibers; middle filtering layer: 55.6 ± 28.5 µm, fragments; outer layer: 42.0 ± 17.8 µm, fibers) and composition of additives. Overall, the concentrations of metals and organic chemicals were too low to cause effects on soil invertebrates. The microplastics from disposable medical masks at 0.06%, 0.5%, 1.5%, w/w did not induce severe adverse effects on survival or reproduction (for enchytraeids). A transient immune response of woodlice and a change in energy-related traits in mealworms were observed, which was most clearly seen for the microplastics from the outer layer. This was reflected in increased electron transfer system activity of mealworms and different immune response dynamics of woodlice. In conclusion, the tested soil invertebrates respond to microplastics from disposable medical masks, but it remains unclear what these changes mean for their fitness on the long term