Toxic chemicals from e-waste found in brain toys sold in Philippine market

By on August 31, 2016


(Photo: Sonny Abesamis/Flickr)
(Photo: Sonny Abesamis/Flickr)

Manila, Philippines/Firenze, Italy – Some toys that are designed to exercise the mind may contain toxic chemicals from recycled electronic waste, which can damage the central nervous system and reduce children’s intellectual capacity.

The EcoWaste Coalition, a watch group on chemicals and wastes, 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 Firenze, Italy.

The study, undertaken by IPEN (a global civil society network promoting safe chemicals policies and practices) and Arnika (an environmental organization in the Czech Republic) showed that samples of Rubik’s Cube-like toys from 16 countries, including the Philippines, 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’sintelligence.

Four of the 10 samples of Rubik’s Cube-like toys imported from China that the EcoWaste Coalition bought from retailers in Manila and shipped to the Czech Republic for laboratory analysis were found to contain significant levels of OctaBDE and/or DecaBDE.  One of the samples from the Philippines tested with the highest concentration of OctaBDE among 47 samples from 16 countries, including European Union, Eastern European and Southeast Asian countries.

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, an international chemical treaty ratified by the Philippine government in 2004, while Deca BDE is expected to be banned when the POPs Review Committee meets in September 2016.

“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 the 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 EcoWaste Coalition’s Project Protect.

“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 still permits 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.