- A recent analysis of consumer products sold in Canada made from recycled plastics has revealed toxic flame-retardant contamination in some hair accessories, children's toys, and other plastic products. Canada is one of the few countries that registered a recycling exemption for toxic polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) persistent organic pollutants (POP) after they were banned under the Stockholm Convention in 2004 (7 out of 182 Parties registered these exemptions). The exemption has permitted to recycle materials such as plastics from discarded computers and other products containing PBDEs in the recycling stream for the past ten years and to continue this practice until 2030. Environmental health organizations are urging the Canadian government to end the practice and withdraw the recycling exemptions because the resulting contamination of the recycling stream allows banned chemicals in products and poses a threat to public health, particularly children.
The toxic substances at issue are PBDEs, flame retardants used in plastics, such as casings for electronics. PBDEs disrupt human hormone systems, adversely impacting the development of the nervous system and children's intelligence. They are released from products into household dust, causing exposure.
In 2019 HEJSupport in Canada, in collaboration with the global environmental health network IPEN, conducted product sampling to assess the presence of PBDEs in products made of recycled plastics. Pocket calculators, hair racks, combs, and toy cars on sale in Canada contained toxic flame retardants. Those products are not a fire hazard and are not expected to contain the some of the most toxic substances targeted for global elimination under the Stockholm Convention.
“Canadian consumers should be able to purchase products made of recycled materials without having to worry that they contain substances that are globally banned. This is not the case at the present time,” said Olga Speranskaya, HEJSupport Co-Director and IPEN Senior Advisor. “We hope that Canada will announce its withdrawal of the recycling exemptions for PBDEs at UN Stockholm Convention meeting in Geneva (April 27-May 10).”
The findings, say researchers, should motivate policymakers to close the recycling loophole that is causing globally banned toxic chemicals to appear in consumer products. In a public letter, HEJSupport and the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA) call on the government of Canada to withdraw its recycling exemption for the toxic class of flame-retardant chemicals.
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