Brominated flame retardants in consumer products made of recycled plastic from eleven Arabic and African countries.
Both the environment in Africa and the Arabic region and the human health of Africans and people from Arabic countries suffer from toxic chemicals and imported wastes more than in developed countries. Africa has become a destination of illegal toxic waste exports, and as this study shows, toxic chemicals are also present in toys, kitchen utensils, and other consumer products sold at African and Arabic region markets.
Four hundred and thirty-four samples of toys and other consumer products made of black plastic, from eleven countries, were sampled for this study. Samples from Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gabon, Jordan, Kenya, Morocco, Syria, Tanzania, and Tunisia were analyzed by X-ray fluorescence (XRF) and almost one-fifth of all 434 samples were sent for special chemical analysis, based on the total content of bromine and antimony.
Eighty-three samples including 22 toys, 27 hair accessories, 18 kitchen utensils, 11 office supplies, and 5 other products were analyzed for 11 common toxic BFRs, 16 congeners of polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) standing for 3 commercial BDE mixtures, 3 isomers of hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD), listed as just HBCD, 6 novel BFRs (nBFRs), and tetrabromobisphenol A (TBBPA).
Out of the 83 analyzed products, only 22 had levels of PBDEs below 50 ppm, which means that 61 of them would be considered as POPs waste in Africa when applying the proposed protective concentration limits called the Low POPs Content Levels (LPCLs), defining when waste becomes hazardous waste under the Stockholm Convention. That means that 14% out of all the 434 samples collected in eleven African and Arabic countries for this study would be considered hazardous waste.
The results of this study show that BFRs regulated under the Stockholm Convention can be found in consumer products from markets in Africa and the Arabic region, similar to what has previously been shown in other countries. The concentration of the BFRs cannot be explained away as unintentional trace contamination (UTC). It, therefore, raises the question of why both regulated and unregulated toxic flame retardants were found at such high levels in products that do not need to be treated with these chemicals? The likely answer is that they are made of recycled plastic from plastic e-waste and end-of-life vehicles (ELVs) where BFRs were originally used.
The present study has shown that children’s toys, hair accessories, office supplies, and kitchen utensils found in the African and Arabic markets are affected by the unregulated recycling of e-waste plastics that carry brominated flame retardants into new products. To stop this practice, stricter measures to control BFRs content in products and waste need to be set and enforced.
There were also high levels of nBFRs and TBBPA in the analyzed products. These substances are yet unregulated but also pose significant health risks in the same way as the PBDEs and HBCD already listed under the Stockholm Convention. Only a class-based approach can address the practice of so-called regrettable substitution, where old toxic BFRs are replaced with new, likely also toxic but still unregulated BFRs. These continue to circulate in the waste and recycling streams in the same way as their regulated counterparts. It is clear that their levels in consumer products require immediate action. The most effective way would be to list these chemicals as a class under the Stockholm Convention, since listing this big group of toxic chemicals one by one as individual substances would take too long to protect consumers’ health.