UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Microplastics and Macroplastic Debris as Potential Physical Vectors of SARS-CoV-2: A Hypothetical Overview with Implications for Public Health Alava, Juan José; Tirapé, Ana; McMullen, Karly; Uyaguari, Miguel; Domínguez, Gustavo A.


COVID-19, caused by SARS-CoV-2, was declared a global pandemic on 11 March 2020 by the World Health Organization. The pandemic has triggered an unprecedented increase in the production, consumption and disposal of multiple types of plastic-based personal protective equipment (PPE) as a measure to reduce the infection. Recent research shows that plastic surfaces can serve as a fomite for coronavirus transmission as it can remain stable and be viable on polypropylene for up to 72 h or on other plastic surfaces for up to 9 days. While it is unknown whether or to what extent macroplastic debris and ubiquitous microplastics emitted into the environment can serve as physical vectors or fomites of pathogenic viruses, recent studies have reported that both macroplastic and microplastics can serve as vectors for harmful pathogens and invasive species (biological pollution). Here, hypothetical scenarios based on the weight of evidence are proposed to plausibly state the role of plastic debris (e.g., single-use-plastics), discarded PPE supplies, including facemasks, sanitizer bottles, gloves, and plastic bags, as well as microplastics as potential physical vectors of SARS-CoV-2, serving as a route of exposure to humans and wildlife in the terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems.

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