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Scientists may have found a use for all of those old disposable face masks

All of those face masks that people wore during COVID-19 are piling up and presenting an environmental issue. But a group of scientists may have a solution: They're using single-use masks to make better concrete. Viv Williams has details in this episode of NewsMD's "Health Fusion."

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Scientists use discarded single-use face masks to make better cement.
Duluth News Tribune
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ROCHESTER, Minn. — How many disposable face masks have you gone through during the COVID-19 pandemic? Some have used hundreds, no doubt. A group of scientists say all of those masks can stay in the environment for decades because they're made of polypropylene or polyester fabric.

But there may be a solution: use the microfibers in the masks to make better, stronger and more durable concrete. Their study showed that mask materials made concrete 47% stronger than commonly used cement.

“These waste masks actually could be a valuable commodity if you process them properly,” says Dr. Xianming Shi, corresponding author on the paper. “I’m always looking out for waste streams, and my first reaction is ‘how do I turn that into something usable in concrete or asphalt?’”

Microfibers are sometimes already used in concrete to strengthen it. But they're expensive. Using the many masks people toss in the trash every day may help reduce costs and carbon emissions, because less cement would be needed in building projects.

The group wants to apply this technology to other fabrics, such as discarded clothing.

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The paper is published in the journal Materials Letters.

Follow the  Health Fusion podcast on  Apple,   Spotify and  Google podcasts. For comments or other podcast episode ideas, email Viv Williams at  vwilliams@newsmd.com. Or on Twitter/Instagram/FB @vivwilliamstv.

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