11 October 2022, NEW ORLEANS - At the Dioxin 2022 Conference beginning here on October 9, Dr. Jindrich Petrlik will present a recent study that demonstrates the failure of using high-temperature approaches to eliminate wastes that contain the “forever chemicals” PFAS, and Valeriya Grechko will present another recent paper that found high levels of brominated dioxins in recycled plastic products purchased in eleven African, Arabic, and Latin American countries. Studies show that brominated dioxins have similar effects as chlorinated dioxins, which are among the most toxic substances known and were among the original “dirty dozen” chemicals targeted for global elimination in 2004 when the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) took effect.
“Our recent work shows that despite decades of global controls, more needs to be done to protect our children and families from deadly dioxins,” said Petrlik, who serves as the Toxics and Waste Programme Director for Arnika in the Czech Republic and as IPEN’s Advisor on dioxin and wastes. “Dioxins from plastics and plastic wastes will remain a problem as long as the industry continues to promote phony recycling schemes and plastic waste burning, and as long as we fail to set strict, low content limits for defining POPs waste. Ultimately, we must work to reduce plastic production and promote innovation for safer materials.”
Brominated flame retardants (BFRs) are highly toxic chemicals that were widely used in plastics and foam to increase fire safety, but several of the most toxic BFRs have been banned globally. However, when plastic wastes that contain BFRs are made into consumer products, banned BFRs from older plastics can end up in the new products.
Previous studies have found BFRs in products made with recycled plastics, but IPEN’s recent report focused on brominated dioxins (PBDD/Fs), a class of POPs formed during the production of BFRs. Brominated dioxins can cause cancer, impacts on brain development, and damage to the immune system and fetus. Recent evidence has found that children playing with plastic toys can ingest levels of brominated dioxins that are nine times higher than the recommended tolerable daily intake (TDI) for dioxins.
The study on products purchased from the eleven African, Arabic, and Latin American countries found significant levels of brominated dioxins in all 61 products sampled, with most samples containing levels of the toxic chemicals similar to the levels that previous studies found in waste incineration ash and residues of burned printed circuit boards. Toys from Jordan and Kenya were among the products with the highest levels of chemical.
The report authors recommend that, to stop the spread of brominated dioxins through recycled plastics, the content level for defining POPs waste (called Low POPs Content Levels), needs to be lowered. Speaking on the findings, Grechko’s and Petrlik’s co-author on the paper Serge Molly Allo'o Allo'o of the Centre d’Etudes et de Recherches Interdisciplinaires en Santé de l’Environnement (CERISEN) in Libreville, Gabon said, “To stop the toxic cycle and address contamination with brominated dioxin, strict Low POPs content levels for PBDEs need to be set and BFRs recycling in plastics has to be stopped.”
In another paper, Petrlik together with Australian, African and Czech experts, reviewed two Australian trials of using high-temperature approaches to destroy toxic wastes that contain per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a class of thousands of “forever chemicals” that resist degradation. Three PFAS, known as PFOS, PFOA, and PFHxS have been listed for global elimination under the Stockholm Convention. The Australian trials sought to determine whether incineration and burning PFAS in a cement kiln could meet the technical standards for POPs elimination under the Basel Convention on wastes, which calls for 99.999% “destruction efficiency”(DE), the percentage of POPs content within the waste that is destroyed or irreversibly transformed, and 99.9999% “destruction and removal efficiency” (DRE), the percentage of original POPs irreversibly transformed and removed from gaseous emissions into the air.
Alarmingly, the study found that the incineration trial was unsuccessful, as the trial data shows that PFAS in the bottom ash following incineration was higher than the waste input of PFAS concentrations, suggesting that incineration may be a source of PFAS production rather than a solution for PFAS elimination. The cement kiln study was missing some data but analysis of the available results showed incomplete destruction for many of the PFAS compounds, below the required 99.9999% threshold.
Lee Bell, IPEN’s POPs Policy Advisor and co-author on the paper, said, "This study demonstrates that society cannot rely on high-temperature operations like hazardous waste incinerators and cement kilns to destroy PFAS compounds that are designed to resist heat. It reveals that both processes lead to PFAS emissions to the atmosphere and that incineration residues contain high concentrations of PFAS that can re-enter the environment. Alternative non-combustion methods for PFAS destruction should be explored."
In addition to the two papers noted above, Petrlik and his colleagues are presenting two more studies, both involving testing of free-range chicken eggs for dioxins. Food chain effects from environmental dioxins deposited in soils, water, and air can be tracked through eggs from these chickens. The recent studies found high levels of dioxins in eggs from Indonesia near operations where plastic is used as fuel, and in eggs from Moldova near landfills, site potentially contaminated with POPs pesticides and PCBs, and a pyrolysis plant.
Dr. Jindrich Petrlik will present the study on trials of burning PFAS wastes in Australian on Tuesday, October 11 at 12:40 pm, and Valeriya Grechko will present the study on products made from recycled plastics on Friday, October 14 at 11:40am. See the Dioxin 2022 Conference website for more details.
See the four studies for Dioxin 2022 on the IPEN website.