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Study Finds High Levels of Toxic Plastic Flame Retardant in Blood Samples of Thai E-Waste and Vehicle Recycling Workers
IPEN and its member groups from around the world call for listing Dechlorane Plus for global elimination, without exemptions
Bangkok and Geneva – Today, as delegates to the11thmeeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the Stockholm Convention begin their deliberations in Geneva, including considering a global ban on the toxic flame retardant Dechlorane Plus (often used in plastics), a new report from Ecological Alert and Recovery - Thailand (EARTH), Arnika, and IPEN shows that recycling workers in Thailand have high levels of this toxic chemical in their bodies and in their food and surroundings. Compared to the average levels of the chemical found in samples from a group of organic farm workers and agriculturalists, who had trace levels of Dechlorane Plus in their blood, the Thai recycling workers on average had nearly 40 times higher levels of the harmful substance in their blood, with the highest level in one worker at nearly 280 times the trace levels found in the organic farm workers and agriculturalists.
The study, “Environmental, Food and Human Body Burden of Dechlorane Plus in a Waste Recycling Area in Thailand: No Room for Exemptions” demonstrates that e-waste plastics and plastic from end-of-life vehicles are a source of Dechlorane Plus poisoning of workers and contamination of their food and environment, providing urgency to the deliberations this week on the decision to add Dechlorane Plus to the Convention’s list of chemicals for global elimination. The Convention’s scientific expert review committee found that Dechlorane Plus meets the criteria for listing as a toxic persistent organic pollutants (POPs), but the current proposal includes exemptions that would allow continued production and use of the chemical for two decades.
“Our study demonstrates that any loopholes that allow the continuing production and use of Dechlorane Plus will result in continued poisonous exposures to workers and our communities,” saidThitikorn Boontongmai, EARTH’s Toxic Waste and Industrial Pollution Program Manager. “We must not sacrifice workers’ health and healthy environments for the sake of industry’s profits. We strongly urge delegates this week to act for the protection of human health and the environment and list Dechlorane Plus inAnnex A of the Stockholm Conventionwith no exemptions.”
Scientific evidence has shown the global risks to health and the environment from Dechlorane Plus. Studies have linked the chemical to neurodevelopmental toxicity, oxidative damage, and potential for endocrine disruption, with associations between Dechlorane Plus exposure and effects on sex- and thyroid hormones. Dechlorane Plus is known to bioaccumulate and studies have detected it in locations far from production sites and places of use.
“Previous studies have shown that toxic chemicals in plastics end up in recycled plastics, posing threats to workers, communities, and consumers. Our study today confirms that Dechlorane Plus is a threat to e-waste recycling workers and their communities and shows that exemptions will threaten their right to healthy workplaces and homes,” said Jitka Straková, a Global Researcher with IPEN. “Safer alternatives to this chemical are already available, so there is no reason to allow any exemptions to a global ban.”
The study released today focused on community-based e-waste and end-of-life vehicles separation and dismantling operations in northeastern Thailand and was conducted in villages with both informal and official e-waste recycling workshops and a dump site that includes asubstantial quantity of waste from electronic equipmentand machines. Similar sites with small- to large-scale e-waste recycling workshops can be found in China, other Asian countries, and elsewhere.
In the Thai communities in the study, waste is stored and dismantled in small workshops at workers’ homes, usually in outdoor living areas right next to homes that are also used for eating. It is also common to have an outdoor kitchen area next to the dismantling workshop. In the blood samples, Dechlorane Plus was present at concentrations above the level of detection in 34 of the 40 e-waste workers, but in only one of the 26 organic farm workers/agriculturalists.
In addition to blood samples from 40 e-waste workers, 58 composite samples of environmental matter (dust and soil) and food were tested for Dechlorane Plus by an independent, accredited laboratory of the University of Chemistry and Technology in Czechia. Dechlorane Plus contamination was assessed in dust from six e-waste dismantling workshops and in dust, soil, and sediments from locations at and around an e-waste dumpsite. Dust from all the workshops contained Dechlorane Plus, including one workshop that has been closed for ten years. In testing around the e-waste dumpsite, Dechlorane Plus was detected as far as 250 meters from the site. The results suggest that transport, storage of e-waste, and the shredding of plastic waste is a source of environmental contamination by Dechlorane Plus, with implications for waste workers throughout the plastics recycling chain. Food samples tested included rice, crabs, fish, snails, and eggs from free-range chickens. The rice and crabs did not contain Dechlorane Plus but the chemical was detected in the other food samples, raising concerns about contamination of the food chain.
Environmental and food contamination can be a source of Dechlorane Plus in humans. Dechlorane Plus was detected in 78% of the environmental and food samples taken from the Thai e-waste recycling communities, but in only 20% of samples from organic farms 15 kilometers away that served as reference areas.
Dechlorane plus is a polychlorinated flame retardant used in electrical wire and cable coatings, plastic roofing materials, connectors in TV and computer monitors, and as a non-plasticizing flame retardant in polymeric systems, such as nylon and polypropylene plastic. It is released to the environment during production, processing, and use, as well as from waste disposal and recycling. It is a poisonous (so-called “regrettable”) substitute for DecaBDE, a flame retardant listed by the Convention in 2019. Since DecaBDE was listed, there has beenincreased production, use, and environmental detection of Dechlorane Plus.
“People should not have any Dechlorane Plus in their blood, so even low levels of this man-made, toxic chemical in our bodies is a concern. These toxic exposures occur because industry chose to replace one harmful chemical with another one,” said Dr.Sara Brosché, Science Advisor for IPEN. “There is no justification for any exemptions to listing this chemical for global elimination, as these would allow continued toxic exposures, especially to workers.”
EARTHis an independent non-governmental organization striving for social and environmental sustainability and justice in Thai society and promoting climate justice, good governance and accountability of governmental and international agencies. EARTH focuses on the impacts of hazardous substances on ecosystems, local communities, and workers’ health.
Arnikais a Czech non-profit organization that has been uniting people striving for a better environment since 2001 and working to protect nature and a healthy environment for future generations both in Czechia and abroad.
The International Pollutants Elimination Network(IPEN)is a global network of more than 600 Participating Organizations in over 125 countries, primarily developing and transition countries. IPEN works to establish and implement safe chemicals policies and practices that protect human health and the environment, for a toxics-free future for all.