Cheap plastic toys can be dangerous for children

Amsterdam, November 29, 2019 – It’s Black Friday. The bargain madness that continues until Christmas has begun. Next month, children will be flooded with plastic toys that are mainly made in China. These include toys that are harmful to their health. Strangely enough, manufacturers are not obliged to state which chemicals are in toys.

European safety requirements must be tightened up

The European Environmental Bureau (EBB) has compiled all the data on hazardous plastic toys and has launched an awareness campaign. The conclusion is that the European Union urgently needs to tighten up its policy on toys. The current policy does stipulate that certain chemical substances may not be present in toys or only up to a certain level. Products that do not meet these requirements will be placed on the Rapid Alert System for Dangerous Non-food Products so that national governments can intervene quickly. However, it is impossible to determine how many dangerous toys are slipping through the loopholes of European legislation.

False CE mark

In 2019, 248 toy models failed to meet the standards. These models (representing a total of several tens of millions of toys) cannot be sold in the European Union. Half of these are made of plastic and 88% of the models came from China. Of the plastic toys that were stopped at the border, 92% had the CE mark, as if they met the EU standards, but were wrongly put on them by the Chinese manufacturer.

The safety system is not watertight

To check whether sold toys comply with the standards, several NGOs have independently investigated toys for chemicals. Here is an overview of what NGOs are reporting for this year:

  • In Denmark one-third of the toys had a too high content of phthalates;
  • In Germany, toys were tested for 240 chemicals. Naphthalene was most commonly found, in four cases in critical quantities;
  • In Italy, color pens were analyzed. Two of the eighteen were found to be chemically hazardous;
  • In Denmark, almost half of the balloons tested were found to contain more nitrosamine than permitted.

There have also been warnings for years about the presence of persistent organic toxins (POPs) in toys made of recycled plastic. In 2017, the International POPs Elimination Network (IPEN) examined 95 Rubrics cubes and a further 16 items, such as combs and toys, from 26 countries. Of the cubes studied, 90% contained toxic flame retardants from the shells of discarded electronic devices. Even chemicals that were banned years ago are found in new toys.

Labels should be made compulsory for toys

In particular, measures are needed to prevent the return of toxic substances through recycling in consumer goods such as toys. One effective measure is the mandatory indication of the substances used on a label, as is the case, for example, with care products.

Tatiana Santos, EEB policy officer: “The EU should get tough; ban all toxic chemicals and close the loopholes. Also, any toys allowed into toy shops should carry a label with the chemical ingredients and warning signs if needed. This way, parents could see what chemicals are in the toys they buy for their children and make informed choices.”

Photo: Yellow duck that has been forbidden on the European market because of chemicals


Read also – ‘Toxic soup’ Dioxins in plastic toys

Read more – Protection against toxic chemicals in plastic fails

These dolls are believed to pose a serious chemical-related risk to consumers

Amsterdam, January 15 2019 – This doll is dangerous. According to the European Commission’s consumer safety initiative, Safety Gate, it contains high levels of the chemical DEHP, which may harm children’s health by “causing possible damage to the reproductive system”. The risk level for this doll is categorized as serious —  DEHP, which acts as a plasticizer, is found in the doll’s head at 19% (by weight). It behaves as an endocrine disruptor and has been shown to affect childhood development and thyroid function in addition to the reproductive system.

It’s not just this doll. A scan of weekly reports of unsafe products generated by Safety Gate reveals a wide range of items, from clothing to face-paint to household appliances, that are considered unfit for consumption yet are readily available on the European market. To counter this, the Rapid Alert System for Dangerous Non-Food Products keeps a database on the thousands of harmful products within the EU; there have been 17,622 alerts across 31 countries since 2011 alone. Once an alert has been submitted, the European Commission facilitates the exchange of information between 31 countries, which often results in the unsafe product being recalled, discontinued, or stopped from entering the EU altogether.

Within this system, harmful goods are categorized according to their hazard type (i.e. fire, chemical, choking, injuries, suffocation), and level (“serious” and “other”). The database is updated on a weekly basis, and this information is disseminated to consumers through the initiative’s website and twitter account.

Have a look and see how many products you would possibly buy yourself;  these plastic dolls, for example (and this one, and this one…), are believed to pose a serious chemical-related risk to consumers. This classification is determined according to REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation, and Restriction of Chemicals) criteria. There is a clear relationship between frequently used additives in plastic and human health. Stay informed!

We eat, drink, and breathe plastic

NRC Handelsblad, one of the leading Dutch newspapers, published an opinion article on Saturday June 23rd 2018, written by Maria Westerbos (Director, Plastic Soup Foundation). Below you can read the translation of the original article.

Visible and invisible plastic particles penetrate our food chains. We’ve been believing in the fairy tale of recycling for too long, says Maria Westerbos.

The increase of plastic pollution is a threat to ecosystems both in water and on land. Everyone’s surely aware of this by now. But to what extent is plastic soup harmful to human beings as well? A question that’s not asked often enough. We know plastic litter fragments, and never decomposes. The concentration of microplastics in the environment and in the air is increasing exponentially. We breathe plastic, we eat plastic, we drink plastic, and we touch plastic all day long.

The Plastic Soup Foundation started a campaign earlier this month, on World Oceans Day, to inform everyone about the direct relationship between plastic and our health. Significantly less plastic truly is the only solution. Governments, corporations, and consumers; the entire world needs to produce less plastic, needs to go on a plastic diet.

Late 2016, the Health Council of the Netherlands published a so-called letter advice about the health risks of micro- and nanoplastics. The council had observed that we inhale small particles of plastic through the air, and consume them through seafood. Additionally, nanoplastics can pass through the intestine and placenta. Although the consequences are still unknown, it can’t be ruled out that this has a toxic effect on the immune system. The Health Council also expressed its worry about the hormone-disrupting effect of chemicals that are added to plastic, such as plasticizers and flame retardants. Furthermore, microplastics can spread pathogenic bacteria.

Health risks for humans can’t be ruled out, but the Health Council considered the uncertainties were as yet too large to be able to formulate specific recommendations to the Dutch government. The Council came no further than a weak call for more research. Unfortunately. Thankfully, the state secretary of infrastructure and water management Van Veldhoven did take that call to heart: before the year is over, a research tender will follow for short-term research on the health effects.

The reports consistently lack an analysis of the speed at which the concentration of micro- and nanoplastics increases in air, sea, and earth. It’s exponential. Do the math: we use more and more plastic per person, and for more and more purposes, from packaging and clothing to car tires.

Plastic litter fragments into parts that, in turn, collapse into even smaller parts. One plastic bag left behind in the environment means a few million additional microplastics later on. The visible and invisible parts penetrate food chains and are now found everywhere on earth. We produce, for example, millions of microfibers each time we do a simple load of laundry of five kilos of synthetic clothes. Through friction, those fibers are released inside the washing machine, and they’re flushed out with the dirty water. Water treatment facilities can’t stop those minuscule fibers.

While official organizations mostly call the health risks ‘uncertain’, leading to a lack of real measures being taken, the question of the ill effects of the increased concentration of plastic parts is rarely asked, let alone answered. Where will we be in a year, or in five or ten years?

It’s for good reason that an increasing number of scientists and doctors are raising the alarm. They point out that chemicals in plastic could lead to cancer, heart failure, Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson’s, arthritis, infertility, and even damage in unborn babies. The peer-reviewed articles are plentiful, such as an article published in Nature last year, in which Swedish scientists prove that nanoplastics enter the brains of fish through the food chain, and lead to abnormal behavior in them.

There’s actually quite a lot known already.

The Plastic Soup Foundation thinks we shouldn’t wait any longer to act, based on the precautionary principle. What we know is downright alarming. The ball’s in the court of the government: national, European, and global. Politics must acknowledge that plastic in the environment is an unwanted emission, that we need norms for plastic pollution, and that the use of plastic needs to be drastically reduced.

We’ve been believing in the fairy tale of plastic recycling for too long: that we can endlessly make new plastic products from old ones, as long as we collect them and recycle.

Prime minister Narendra Modi of India has already understood that we all need to go on a ‘plastic diet’. In his country, with 1.3 billion inhabitants, plastic pollution has become unmanageable. The air is also extremely polluted, as millions of Indians burn their plastic to simply get rid of their trash, not caring about the toxic dioxins that are released during the process.

On World Environment Day, Modi announced his country will ban all single-use plastic in 2022, because: “Plastic is harmful to the environment, animals, and the health of the people.” Erik Solheim, head of the United Nations Environment Programme, welcomed the step as an inspiration for the rest of the world.

The Plastic Soup Foundation is now calling the Dutch government to take proactive measures. The Netherlands needs to dare to take the lead in the battle against the plastic tsunami threatening our planet. We’re burdening future generations with a gigantic problem, that goes hand in hand with a high price for our health, as long as we keep trivializing, hesitating, and only taking action in dribs and drabs.

The plastic industry and the packaging industry barely even made a single move by themselves. The aim of their business models, of course, is to keep producing unlimited amounts of plastic at low costs. That’s why the government needs to prescribe the plastic diet; to kick our plastic addiction, but especially for self-preservation.

Werknemers in bouw en plasticindustrie riskeren meer gezondheidsproblemen

Employers in construction and plastics industries at higher risk of health problems

Amsterdam, June 24, 2018 – Endocrine Disruptors, or EDs, pose a potential health risk. This group of substances is now being linked to impaired fertility, as well as with chronic diseases such as diabetes and cancer. Employees in construction and in the plastics industries come into contact with these substances more than other people regularly would, and are therefore at a higher risk of increased health problems. The substances, which include plasticisers, are added to plastic to give it the desired properties. The construction industry has been using more and more plastics the past few years to, among other things, construct buildings that are more energy-efficient.

Worldwide, millions of people work in these two industries. An international group of scientists argues in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health that this group of employees need a separate risk-based approach. They point to a study, for instance, which alleges that employees in both industries are at higher risk of developing prostate cancer.

It’s not just the amount of exposure that’s relevant; the moment of exposure and the sex of the person being exposed are important, too. Factors like these make it hard to prove causal links. Additionally, it can take time before harmful effects actually start to manifest. This is an important explanation for the fact that there still isn’t any clear legislation which regulates the use of EDs.


Microplastics in bottled water

Amsterdam, 4 April 2018 – Last September, Orb Media, an American research journalism organization, published a report about the worldwide microplastics pollution in drinking water. For this research 159 samples from across the globe were examined and over 80% of them proved to be contaminated.

Now the organization speaks out again. This time it was not tap water Orb had examined, but bottled water. No less than 250 1-liter bottles from prominent brands, bought in nine different countries, were examined by the State University of New York. An average of 10 particles were found per bottle. The research has not yet been published in a scientific magazine.

Despite the fact that the bottlers of water satisfy strict quality and safety requirements, it is apparently inevitable for plastic particles to end up in the water. Only unscrewing the cap from the bottle causes a friction that already releases particles into the water.

Head of research Professor Sherri Mason is not looking to point fingers at the examined brands with the rapport, but says, as quoted by the BBC, that: “it’s really showing that this is everywhere, that plastic has become such a pervasive material in our society”.


Poor air quality caused by microplastics

Amsterdam, 30 March 2018 – The Netherlands does not meet agreed standards for air quality in all its cities. The Dutch cabinet wants to change this and anyone who wants to can submit their views on government proposals to improve air quality.

Surprisingly microplastics are not mentioned once in the draft bill “Amendments to the National Air Quality Cooperation Program”. Perhaps they are counted as particles or perhaps they have been left out altogether. The fact of the matter is that the air is full of microplastics, and concentrations are increasing because plastic is not biodegradable.

In the United Kingdom, the Daily Mail recently carried out a study into packaged and non-packaged fish in London supermarkets. The fish were tested for the presence of microplastics in a laboratory at the University of Portsmouth. Dozens of microplastics, which had come from the air, were found on the pieces of fish. Substantially more microplastics were found on fish that had not been packaged, and had therefore been exposed to the air for longer.

The Daily Mail quoted Professor Frank Kelly, a specialist affiliated to King’s College in London. In 2016, he stated the following to a parliamentary hearing: “If you can breathe them [microplastics] in, they could potentially deliver chemicals to lower parts of our lungs, maybe even across into our circulation in the same way we worry about vehicle emissions.” Professor Kelly, himself, had taken measurements of particles in the air at King’s College: “We have been particularly struck by the high levels of clothing fibers in the atmosphere.”

Another expert, Dr. Welden, was also quoted by the Daily Mail: “I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re not building up in the air in the same way as in the oceans. They will be fragmenting and still not going away”.

Since airborne microplastics have not yet been named as a cause of poor air quality, all kinds of possible measures fail to be taken into account. In particular, a lot could be achieved by tackling the loss of fibers from synthetic clothing and materials.

Read more: How damaging is breathing in microplastics.

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“Alternatives for BPA are equally harmful” 

Amsterdam, 30 March 2018 – The plastics industry is a massive user of bisphenol A (BPA). This is a chemical compound that is used in many plastic products such as plastic bottles, electronics, receipts and toys. As BPA affects the hormone balance and can cause infertility, in 2016 the Dutch government decreed that exposure to BPA must be reduced. The government also announced that it would make efforts to ensure that producers develop safer alternatives.

We are now two years down the line and the question arises what the producers have been doing.

In 2016, the European Union classified BPA as a toxic substance and put it on the European Chemicals Agency’s list of substances of very high concern. This was a unanimous decision by scientists of all member states. This was the reason for PlasticsEurope, the lobby organisation representing the European plastics industry, to challenge the European Union in court to remove BPA from the list. They claimed that measure would be ‘fundamentally disproportionate’, and this, speculates an EUobserver message, is a delaying tactic. While the issue is being battled in court, BPA can stay on the market and the alternatives will not be used.

In the meantime, alternatives have been launched on the market. Many consumers have become used to labels praising products as ‘BPA free’. However, producers appear to mostly use alternatives that strongly resemble BPA. These are mostly bisphenol S (BPS), bisphenol F (BPF) and bisphenol HPF (BHPF). Chem Trust, whose mission is to protect humans and animals from harmful chemicals, has surveyed the uses and has issued a report containing alarming findings. Among these are that:

  • as alternative bisphenols belong to the same chemical group, it can be expected that they can be equally harmful to health as BPA; and,
  • BPA is found in the blood and urine of almost everybody that has been tested. This is now the case with alternative bisphenols too.
  • In an effort to reduce the use of substances deemed hazardous, the European legislation would be totally ineffective if it would not also apply to alternative bisphenols.

Maria Westerbos, director of the Plastic Soup Foundation: “It is high time that not only the Dutch Government, but also the European Union sends a strong signal to the industry that it is entirely unacceptable to exchange one problematic substance with another, and to mislead the public into thinking that the products are then safe. Let alone that the industry even dares go to court. It shows a distinct lack of conscience.”

Hormone disruptors in human brains

Endocrine disruptors found in human brains

Amsterdam, 20 September 2017 – People are continuously exposed to Bisphenol-A (BPA) and phthalates (plasticisers) in plastic. Around 80 diseases are linked to exposure to endocrine disruptive substances, or Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs). As early as 2012, the World Health Organisation (WHO) had already warned of possible carcinogenic qualities of endocrine disruptors in its State of the science of endocrine-disrupting chemicals report, and it concluded that these substances are a threat to human health worldwide.

For the first time, it has now been demonstrated that endocrine disruptive substances can settle in the human brain. It was always assumed that volatile matter, such as parabens and phenols, cannot accumulate. The opposite seems to be the case. An international research team, led by Groningen University Medical Center, found endocrine disruptors in human brain tissue that do not leave the body. The results were published in September in the professional journal Environmental Research and Public Health.

This new scientific evidence comes at the point that the environmental commission of the European Parliament is to discuss the proposal by the European Union to regulate EDCs. There was much protest against the European Commission, partly because the requirements for burden of proof were so stringent. Last June, the Endocrine Society, the European Society of Endocrinology and the European Society for Paediatric Endocrinology issued a joint statement expressing their severe criticism to the proposal. It is with the power of the European Parliament to force the European Commission to amend the proposal.

There is a petition on the EDC Free Europe website which calls upon the European Parliament to ban EDCs and to enforce much more stringent regulations. Sign it here!

Carlos Rodriguez V. - Pallid Goby
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Nanoplastics cause brain damage and behavioural abnormalities in fish

For the first time, scientists at Lund University in Sweden have proven that nanoplastics enter the brains of fish through the food chain and that this leads to abnormal behaviour. The research findings were published in the authoritative journal, Nature, on 13 September.

For the research, the scientists recreated two food chains for two months. One contained no nanoplastics while the other contained nanoplastics that were invisible to the naked eye. In the experiment, algae and water fleas were exposed to polystyrene particles of 53 and 180 nanometers. The water fleas were then fed to freshwater fish.

The fish that were exposed to the 53 nm plastics ate more slowly and travelled further to reach their food than the group that were exposed to the 180 nm. The 180 nm group exhibited hyperactive behaviour. The researchers believe that the abnormal behaviour was caused by an accumulation of nanoplastics in the fishes’ brains.

Furthermore, the research showed that all the fish in the experiment had nanoplastics in their brains. In contrast, the brains of animals in a control group did not contain plastic particles. The scientists believe that an accumulation of nanoplastics in the brains can occur in nature. While animals are constantly exposed to low concentrations of nanoplastics, they may not live long enough for the plastic particles that slowly accumulate in their bodies to cause damage. The carp used in the research can live to over 10 years.

The researchers concluded that the nanoplastics in algae are eaten by water fleas, which in turn are eaten by fish. This is how the plastic particles move through the food chain. Humans are at the top of the food chain and the question is to what extent plastic particles enter human bodies and accumulate there.

Maria Westerbos, director of the Plastic Soup Foundation: “What we already feared is confirmed in this study – nanoplastics go up through the food chain and cause abnormal behaviour in animals. Much more research is needed, and governments must take measures to stop nanoplastic pollution to protect human and animal health.”