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Littered masks are threatening our waterways

Disposable masks are posing several threats to the local environment, according to officials with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

NORFOLK, Va. — The pandemic has been an adjustment for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, but efforts to keep our waterways clean are picking back up.

Crews are planting more oysters and they’re on the heels of a solid legislative session for agriculture and wastewater improvements in Virginia.

But there’s still an unexpected threat in the form of disposable masks.

“We are beginning to see them out in the waterways in the field doing work,” said the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s lead scientist Chris Moore. “Our biggest concern long term is that most of the masks contain small bits of plastics. And we’re learning more and more about the negative effect of microplastics in our waterways. And that is what these masks will eventually break down to.”

Those microplastics are taken up the food chain, according to Moore, threatening a lot more than just the wildlife initially exposed. Littered masks are also a threat like plastic bottle holders that have tangled up aquatic animals for decades.

Moore also says littered masks are making their way into our sewer systems. Clogging these systems can lower our overall water quality.

But Moore thinks the long-term effects of the pandemic could end up being an advantage. More people got out of the house and connected with nature in 2020. That meant more people got a chance to see litter and pollution in and around our shorelines firsthand.

“Hopefully develop a greater affinity for them and want to protect more and more in the future,” said Moore.

This year’s Clean the Bay Day will be a six-day event to allow for social distancing when cleaning up the bay.