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After requiring people to wear masks, many localities are discovering that discarded masks are becoming a health hazard

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Vishal Bhatnagar/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Perhaps no issue has symbolized the confusion associated with the response to the COVID-19 pandemic more than the issue of face masks. Initially, health organizations said not to wear masks. Then the Centers for Disease Control said to wear masks in public. Then some "experts" said that wearing a mask can actually increase your risk of infection.

Many cities and states eventually settled on requiring masks or face coverings for everyone going out in public, even in the face of the confusion about their efficacy. We have even started to see stories about citizens angrily confronting other citizens who go out in public without masks.

Now cities are sounding the alarm about masks for another reason: Improperly discarded masks are creating a potential health and environmental hazard. The problem has gotten so severe that one Massachusetts town has upped their fine for littering to $5,500.

Beyond the problem associated with littering (and/or masks that were initially placed in trash bins but ended up on the ground due to wind/other reasons), used masks and face coverings cause concerns for recycling companies, who say that many people are improperly placing their used masks and gloves in recycling bins, which poses a health hazard for their workers.

According to a report from CNN, numerous employees who work for recycling companies have had concerns that the discarded personal protective equipment that is erroneously placed in recycling bins will contaminate them with the virus. But there is no evidence that anyone has actually been infected due to improper placement of used personal protective equipment in recycling.

Concern for improper disposal of face masks and gloves is especially acute at hospitals and grocery stores, where their parking lots have at times become dumping grounds for possibly contaminated material, increasing the risk of infection for workers who are already anxious about being on the front lines during the pandemic.

The message is clear: If you do choose to go out and wear a mask and/or gloves during the continuation of the crisis, please make sure that all waste is properly disposed of.

One last thing…
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