IPEN (a global civil society network promoting safe chemicals policies and practices) and Arnika (an environmental organization in the Czech Republic) aired this observation following the announcement of the results of a global survey on toxic chemicals in brain toys at a scientific conference on persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in Florence, Italy.
The study, undertaken by IPEN and Arnika showed that samples of Rubik's Cube-like toys from 16 countries contained toxic polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) called OctaBDE and/or DecaBDE.
Both OctaBDE and DecaBDE are brominated flame retardant chemicals primarily used in plastic casings of electronic products. These chemicals are known to disrupt human hormone systems, adversely impacting the development of the nervous system and children's intelligence.
Out of the 41 samples of puzzle cubes and six additional samples (thermo cup, hair clip, hand band, finger skateboard, toy robot and hockey stick), 40 samples (85%) contained OctaBDE at concentrations ranging from 1 to 108 parts per million (ppm), while 42 samples (89%) contained DecaBDE, a toxic chemical commonly found in electronic waste, between 1 to 293 ppm.
OctaBDE is already banned under the Stockholm Convention on POPs, while Deca BDE is expected to be banned at the next Conference of Parties in May 2017.
"Puzzle toys similar to Rubik's Cubes are supposed to promote children's intelligence, but the presence of brominated flame retardants from recycled e-waste creates quite the opposite impact on children who play with them. Recycling e-waste can save resources and energy, but it must be done in a way that does not put banned toxic substances back into commerce, which can threaten human health and the environment," explained Jitka Strakova, Coordinator of the survey from Arnika.
"Our discovery of banned chemicals from e-waste in common consumer products such as toys is probably just the tip of the iceberg. Considering the inadequate chemical safety regulations in place, it is likely that these toxic substances are being recycled into a range of products that consumers are not aware of," said Thony Dizon, Coordinator of the Philippine survey. Philippine cubes ranked the highest concentrations of PBDEs among the samples.
"For the health of our children and workers, we urge our policy makers to grant no recycling exemption for POPs such OctaBDE and DecaBDE. This dirty recycling, which often takes place in low and middle income countries, is spreading poisons in recycling sites, in our homes and in our bodies," he further said. In 2009, the Stockholm Convention listed PentaBDE and OctaBDE for global elimination, but the treaty stillpermits the recycling of materials containing these toxic chemicals until 2030.
"As long as we allow the recycling exemptions, we will be unable to control the flow of these dangerous flame retardants," said Joe DiGangi, Senior Science and Technical Advisor of IPEN.
IPEN is a leading global network of 700 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working in more than 100 developing countries and countries with economies in transition. IPEN works to establish and implement safe chemicals policies and practices to protect human health and the environment. EcoWaste Coalition and Arnika are active members of the network.