Horror gifts: will children find toxic toys under the tree and ladies poisonous combs?

12.12.2017 - PRAGUE
Photo: Arnika

In children's toys and hairdressing aids for women made from recycled plastic, the analysis by Arnika revealed dangerous substances. Experts on toxic substances in these products measured one of the highest values of some brominated flame retardants from previously tested samples from 26 countries. These toxic substances in children are involved in concentration disorders or ADHD syndrome. There is a suspicion that they can cause liver cancer. Moms should be especially careful before Christmas to keep their children under the tree without toys of toxic plastic. Arnika, therefore, calls for banning the use of toxic substances in plastics and promoting safe recycling in the new Recycle without Poisons campaign. People can join the call at www.recyklujbezjedu.cz.

Photographs of analyzed samples of toys, combs, and hair trimmings can be found in our photogallery

Download the Study on the Occurence of Toxic Substances in Toys and the Study on the Occurrence of Toxic Substances in Consumer Products (both in Czech only)

Arnika has made measurements of 16 toys and 31 products of black recycled plastic designed for hair care or hair ornaments. All the products are commonly available in both the market and the store. So far, the highest value of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE) from worldwide monitored toys was measured by Arnika in a plastic jigsaw puzzle that was bought in a “Teta” drug store at the Prague Marketplace. It even exceeds the highest concentrations of globally collected samples measured in toys purchased in Nigeria. Right behind this sample, in the imaginary ladder, there was a hair clip or a copy of Rubik's Cube purchased in regular shop in Prague 8.

"The samples really are as gifts cut out of the Grimm Brothers scary stories. Queen of Snow White would not be ashamed by the hair clip, and Baba Yaga would thank for the dice with a mole,” commented on the results of analyzes RNDr. Jindřich Petrlík, Head of the Toxic Substances and Wastes Association of Arnika.

Risky substances are mostly made from recycled material from older electric scrap exported to China or other developing countries from the EU and other developed countries, probably including the Czech Republic. Recycled products with poisonous ingredients return to circulation and the results of the survey show that consumers in the Czech market are not being avoided. This can be happening because of the exceptions that have been enforced by the European Union. In the framework of all international monitoring, the results of which were published in April of this year, the highest values were found in items purchased in Nigeria and Argentina. New analyzes from the Czech Republic have shown same or as in the case of the folding dice with a mole even higher values.

Brominated flame retarders prevent or reduce ignition of flammable material, especially plastics. Some of them are involved in behavioral disorders; they damage the immune, hormonal and reproductive system. In contrast to other persistent organic compounds, they can get to our bodies with just touching. Small children are also exposed to dust from the interior, where they can be released, for example, from objects in a nursery.

"Every fifteenth child in the Czech Republic has so-called ADHD syndrome, one of the neurodevelopmental disorders. Its incidence has been up to fourfold in the last ten years. This risk is also carried by some brominated flame retardants. In toys that should help in the development of a child, paradoxically children encounter substances that, on the contrary, hurt their healthy development,” says Jindřich Petrlík from Arnika, head of the Toxic Substances and Waste Program.

The sad situation of the presence of toxic substances in children's toys and women's items could be improved by ending the recycling exceptions for some brominated diphenyl ethers and setting a sufficiently tight limit for brominated diphenyl ethers in waste at 50 ppm. Such limit would make it impossible to export the toxic waste across the borders, thereby also preventing the health of people working in the recycling sector in developing countries.

"In 6 out of 16 analyzed toys and in 7 out of 31 black plastic products designed for hair care or hair ornaments purchased in the Czech Republic, there were concentrations that can be considered high, ie more than 50 ppm. In addition to the two brominated flame retardants, which have been forbidden by the Stockholm Convention, ie the OktaBDE and the HBCD, the decaBDE, which was banned by the Convention this year, was also widely found in the analyzed products. However, there still would be a threat that all these substances will return to our market. This is caused by too benevolent rules for the disposal of electrical waste and plastics, which contain these substances,” says Jitka Straková from Arnika, coordinator of international monitoring and co-author of studies from the Czech Republic.

The starting point should be the concept of a circular economy, but without toxic substances. "Recycling is definitely better than landfilling and waste incineration. However, some politicians also want to recycle the toxic substances in the waste and subordinate the legislation to it. Paradoxically, they allow poisoning the circular economy which is why people lose confidence in recycling plastics," adds Karolína Brabcová from Arnika, a specialist in European chemical policy.

Author: Martin Holzknecht, Hana Borejova

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