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Studies Show Health Threats from Plastic Recycling
Two IPEN studies released this month documented the risks to workers, communities, and consumers from plastic recycling.
Plastics are made with toxic chemicals, so when plastics are recycled these chemicals go into the new plastic products and can impact consumers. Toxic chemicals in plastics also threaten recycling workers’ health, including waste pickers and workers who gather, sort, dismantle, and shred plastics. Communities around plastic recycling centers are also at risk, as these are hazardous waste facilities but rarely have adequate safety procedures to protect their workers or surrounding areas.
In one of the recent IPEN studies, we found a toxic flame retardant used in plastics in the blood, food, and surroundings of plastic e-waste workers in Thailand. The study, conducted in partnership with Ecological Alert and Recovery – Thailand (EARTH) and Arnika found blood levels of the toxic chemical Dechlorane Plus were nearly 40 times higher in e-waste workers than the trace level found in nearby organic farm workers – with one e-waste worker who had nearly 280 times the level found in the organic farm workers. Studies have linked Dechlorane Plus to neurodevelopmental toxicity, oxidative damage, and potential for endocrine disruption, and the chemical was listed this month for global elimination by the Stockholm Convention as one of the world’s most toxic substances.
The other study, conducted with Kenya’s Centre for Environment Justice and Development (CEJAD) and Arnika, focused on plastic recycling in Kenya, finding high levels of dioxin-like PCBs and other toxic chemicals in recycled plastic products and the food chain. Testing of free-range eggs collected from areas around plastic recycling and dump sites found that an adult eating a single egg from one Kenyan location could be exposed to a dose of toxic chemicals that would exceed the EU daily safety limit for more than 250 days.
The recycled plastic products purchased in Kenya also showed chemical health threats. Fourteen of the 18 products tested contained levels of BFRs above the proposed limit for hazardous POPs waste by the African group, with one plastic toy car containing extremely high levels of brominated dioxins -- higher than concentrations found in waste incineration ashes.
Griffins Ochieng, Executive Director of CEJAD and IPEN’s Plastics Working Group Co-Chair said, “Africa faces an unequal share of the burdens from plastic pollution, from PCBs, and from other highly toxic chemicals from plastics that contaminate our food, water, air, and even toys that our children play with. We experience greater health risks because of loopholes in international regulations and abuses by corporations and countries that export plastic wastes which contain and release dangerous chemicals. Our study today shows that we urgently need stronger global policies to end the crisis from poisonous plastics.”
See more on toxic plastic recycling in IPEN’s INC-2 Resources.