Toxic Chemicals in Plastic Waste Poisoning People in Africa, Asia, Central and Eastern Europe & Latin America
IPEN & Arnika, June 2021
Plastics and food packaging contain chemical contaminants from manufacturing along with many additives to make them inflammable, more flexible, grease-resistant, or sterile, as well as other substances to create many other properties. Many of these additives are toxic and they leak from products during use and can be released during recycling and from recycled products.
This study focuses on persistent organic pollutants (POPs), whose releases are closely related to plastic wastes. The POPs include additives in the plastic as such, as well as unintentionally produced POPs (UPOPs) generated mostly by burning, incineration and/or other thermal treatment of plastics.
The report found that the levels of dioxin and PCBs in eggs in some locations were so high that residents could not eat a single egg without exceeding the safe limits for these chemicals established in the European Union.
The report also found:
- The analyzed eggs contained some of the most toxic chemicals ever studied, many of which are banned or regulated by international law, including dioxins, and the chemical additives PBDEs, PCBs and SCCPs.
- In nearly every open, plastic waste site where eggs were sampled, dioxin levels exceeded the European Union (EU) safe consumption maximum limit (2.5 pg WHO TEQ per gram). In some locations, eggs exceeded the safe limit by tenfold. For dioxin combined with PCBs that are just as toxic as dioxins (so are measured as a combination) all sites exceeded the EU limit (5 pg WHO TEQ per gram) with some sites up to sixfold higher.
- The maximum PBDEs levels in egg samples taken near some plastic waste disposal sites were comparable to the world’s most seriously contaminated e-waste sites in Guiyu, China.
- In one location in Indonesia, the dioxin levels in eggs were at a similar level to eggs sampled on a former US Air Force base in Vietnam which is heavily contaminated by Agent Orange.
- Very high levels of POPs were detected at locations where plastics and electronic waste are mixed and then dumped and/or burned to recover metals. The study confirmed that burning this kind of mixture very often leads to much more severe dioxin contamination than open burning of wastes at general dumpsites.
Condensed version of report
Long version of report