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Alarm Raised Over High Concentration of Toxins in Children’s Toys

In December 2017, the Czech environmental NGO Arnika published the results of a study into plastic children’s toys and accessories on the EU market. The NGO found high concentrations of toxic chemicals in the surveyed products, which it blames on “toxic recycling”.

Arnika’s recently conducted study of children’s toys, as well as hair accessories made from recycled plastics, revealed high concentrations of brominated flame retardants (BFRs). Traders and producers  of electronics and textiles may be familiar with BFRs, which are commonly found in a large number of consumer goods such as plastic cases of electronic devices, domestic kitchen appliances, carpets, pillows, upholstery, paints, cars and building materials, in order to reduce flammability.

Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD) are BFRs with hazardous properties for human and animal health and the environment. They may cause damage to a person’s nervous and reproductive systems. Particular risks for children include thyroid disruption, neuro-developmental problems, attention disorders, memory and learning problems, delayed mental and physical development, advanced puberty and reduced fertility.

As these substances do not break down in the environment, they are listed for elimination in Annex A of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs). At EU level, the Regulation on Persistent Organic Pollutants has been adopted with regard to the obligations of the EU under the Stockholm Convention. Certain BFRs have been banned  since more than a decade.

Under the REACH chemicals Regulation, HBCD is a substance whose use and placing on the market in the EU is subject to authorisation, and PBDEs are restricted substances. Hong Kong traders of electrical goods may recall that, for example, PBDEs are restricted under the Directive on the restriction of the use of certain hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment (RoHS) beyond a maximum concentration value of 0.1%.

Despite this strict legislation, Arnika found BFR levels far exceeding regulatory limits in several toys. For the purposes of the study, Arnika exclusively chose products made of black plastic, as, during the recycling process of different coloured plastic, black colorant is added.

The sampled products were bought in the Czech Republic, but were not exclusively originating there; Hong Kong producers might be interested to know that according to the report, many were imported from mainland China.

47 plastic toy and hair accessory products were first tested for bromine with an X-ray spectrometer. Those products with a high presence of bromine were analysed by the University of Chemical Technology in Prague.

The laboratory analysis revealed the presence of PBDEs in 37% of the toys and in 22% of the hair accessory products. Two toys and one hair accessory contained PBDE levels above 0.1%. The highest concentration of PBDEs was found in a plastic puzzle containing 0.26% by weight.

The NGO says these toxins found their way into the products as a consequence of “toxic recycling”, i.e. the recycling of plastics made long ago, containing substances which are now banned.

Given that flame retardants are only added to products which carry a fire risk, Arnika deduces from their presence in toys that toxic chemicals are re-entering the EU through the circular economy in the guise of new products. Although Arnika promotes recycling as a good resource-saving strategy, the NGO highlights that it is necessary to promote technologies which allow recycling companies to decontaminate the plastics from the toxic chemicals they contain.

Furthermore, Arnika criticises exemptions for certain industries such as the car and aircraft industry, and recycling provisions which allow substances banned from new production to enter the recycling stream. The NGO advises consumers to choose toys made from natural materials such as wooden, fabric or cotton, and has initiated a new campaign named “Toxic-Free Recycling”, calling for an immediate end to recycling exemptions.

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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