The EcoWaste Coalition, a non-profit group campaigning for a zero waste and toxics-free society, sounded the alarm following the release of a ground-breaking study abroad illustrating the effects on human cells of dioxins in plastic children’s toys such as those made of black plastic, which is often obtained from recycled e-waste plastic with flame retardant chemicals.
“We urge the country’s toy safety regulators to seriously look into this pioneering study demonstrating the harmful effects of plastic toys made of recycled e-waste plastic on human cells,” said Thony Dizon, Chemical Safety Campaigner, EcoWaste Coalition.
“The study shows that children mouthing toys made of this type of plastic may suffer from health effects due to exposure from such toxic material, which should have never been used for consumer products, most especially for toys,” he said.
“We agree with the researchers’ call for immediate action to change the global recycling systems to prevent hazardous chemical content from entering the recycling chain. It’s a wake-up call for the government and the industry, as well as for consumers, that must not be ignored,” he added.
The study by researchers from Arnika, BioDetection Systems, and the International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN) – a global civil society network for a toxics-free future that includes the EcoWaste Coalition – found dangerous concentrations of flame retardants and dioxins in the analyzed toys that were comparable to levels in hazardous wastes such as the byproduct ash from waste incinerators.
The dire findings are concerning for children’s health globally and spotlight a dangerous flaw in the circular economy model which seeks to reduce plastic waste through increased plastic recycling. Current recycling systems allow plastics with flame retardant chemicals and dioxins to be put into the recycling stream, resulting in dangerously contaminated products made of recycled plastics, such as the sampled toys in this study.
“Our methodologies using state-of-the-art human and mammalian cells, as well as chemical analyses to assess the toxic impacts of the plastics in this study, advance scientific knowledge about how toxic chemicals in plastics can impact human health. These findings indicate that in many consumer products manufactured with recycled black plastic containing brominated flame retardants (such as PBDEs), highly toxic brominated dioxin-like compounds are to be expected and should urgently be monitored and prevented,” said Dr. Peter A. Behnisch, Director of BioDetection Services, the Amsterdam based laboratory that conducted the analysis.
Jindrich Petrlik, Executive Director of Arnika, IPEN Advisor, and lead scientist for the project said: “This study demonstrates that our current system is allowing hazardous materials to be molded into toys. Stricter controls to keep POPs out of consumer goods are a moral imperative. We must stop the flow of e-waste, and plastics with flame retardants, into recycling and set sufficiently strict limits for POPs in waste. Otherwise, we are looking at a toxic circular economy.”
Noted health expert Dr. R. Thomas Zoeller, Ph.D., Professor of Biology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, who is unaffiliated with the study, points to the seriousness of cancer-causing chemicals found in the toys sampled.
“We are surrounded by plastics, especially in toys, and the chemicals used to make plastic are not always known, especially if the plastic is recycled. This is a very important study that not only did the hard work of chemical analysis, but also used a new type of analysis that would help us determine the overall toxicity of the plastic. What they found is that black plastic contains sometimes high levels of cancer-causing chemicals. No parent wants to expose their child to toxics,” stated Zoeller.
Dioxins are considered some of the world’s most toxic chemicals and are extremely harmful even in minimal amounts. Levels of concern for dioxin substances, which begin at a few tenths of a picogram per gram, reached thousands of picograms per gram in some of the samples examined, according to the study.
Brominated dioxins are highly hazardous chemicals known to affect brain development, damage the immune system, increase the risk of cancer, and risk disruption of thyroid function. They are formed unintentionally during the production of brominated flame retardants.
When plastics with brominated flame retardants are recycled and heated to be re-formed into new plastic products, additional brominated and chlorinated dioxins are formed. While they are not globally banned, brominated dioxins are recognized by the World Health Organization to be as toxic as closely related chlorinated dioxins. Experts advocate for stricter regulation of brominated dioxins.