04 December 2015

EcoWaste Coalition Reveals Toys with Toxic Flame Retardant Chemicals ("Why are hazardous chemicals found in e-waste present in children's toys")

IPEN poster illustrating toxic recycling of POPs-containing waste materials into new products.
Samples of imitation "Rubik's Cube" sent to a laboratory in the Czech Republic for toxic flame retardant analysis.

Amid the Christmas shopping rush, a watchdog group for chemical safety and zero waste has expressed serious concern over the recycling of plastics containing toxic substances into children’s toys that are sold in the local market.

As part of its ongoing campaign for kid-safe toys, the EcoWaste Coalition revealed that two of the four samples of China-made imitation “Rubik’s Cube” that it sent to the Czech Republic for laboratory analysis contained significant levels of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) called OctaBDE and/or DecaBDE.

PBDEs refer to a group of brominated flame retardants (BFRs), which are highly toxic chemicals, commonly used in consumer electronics, including computers and TV sets, as well as in recycled foam padding in carpet and furniture.

OctaBDE is listed in the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) for global elimination, while DecaBDE is under evaluation by the treaty’s POPs Review Committee that has concluded “global action is warranted.” The Philippines is a state party to the Stockholm Convention.

Both OctaBDE and DecaBDE are ubiquitous in the environment globally and can disrupt human hormone systems, creating potential adverse effects on the development of the nervous system and children’s IQ.

“The recycling of plastics  containing toxic substances such as flame retardants into toys raises health and safety concerns as this could expose kids to toxic substances known to interfere with brain and central nervous system development,” said Thony Dizon, Coordinator, EcoWaste Coalition’s Project Protect.

"Why are hazardous chemicals found in e-waste present in children's toys?," asked Dizon.

“Toxic chemicals should not be recycled into consumer products, especially toys for children,” said Dr. Joe DiGangi, Senior Science and Technical Advisor of IPEN, a global civil society network for safe chemicals policies and practices that includes the EcoWaste Coalition.

“Toxic recycling poisons products, our children, wastes, and the wider environment,” emphasized DiGangi.

According to the report “Toxic toy or toxic waste: Recycling POPs into new products,” published by IPEN and Arnika (a Czech environmental health NGO), “substances listed in the Stockholm Convention such as PentaBDE and OctaBDE should not be present in children’s products, consumer products, food contact materials, and other products. These articles should also not contain DecaBDE due to its toxic properties.”

The group purchased 10 samples of imitation “Rubik’s Cube” from formal and informal retail outlets in Manila and had them screened for bromine using a portable X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) device.  The four samples that had bromine content higher than 1,000 parts per million (ppm) were sent to Czech Republic for laboratory analysis.

As per laboratory analysis by the Institute of Chemical Technology in Prague, the four samples contained OctaBDE at concentrations ranging from 2 to 108 ppm.  All four were also found to contain DecaBDE, a common toxic chemical in e-waste, from 5 to 293 ppm.

The levels of OctaBDE and DecaBDE found in two of the four samples were above the 50 ppm limit that qualify polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) as hazardous waste under the Stockholm Convention. This is a concern because OctaBDE and DecaBDE are very similar to PCBs in both structure and toxicity.

The laboratory analysis for PBDEs was made possible through the group’s collaboration with Arnika and IPEN.

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