Toxic Footprint of the European Union Can Be Reduced Significantly

3.5.2013 - GENEVA/PRAGUE
Illustrative photograph of installation of polystyrene thermal insulation
Licence: Creative Commons, NefcoNordic_byFlickr

Significant reduction of health risks caused by recycling of polystyrene with content of hazardous substances may be produced by a fresh agreement of 162 signatory states of the Stockholm Convention. They added a flame retardant called hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD) to the so-called blacklist.


They were persuaded by expert arguments prepared by the international network of non-governmental organisations IPEN, including the Arnika Association. This happened during the current negotiations of three international conventions on toxic substances, held in the United Nations premises in Geneva. The arguments also enabled the delegates of African states to persuade representatives of the EU to withdraw the proposal of recycling of plastics containing this toxic substance.

„Motto of the Arnika Association and of the other member organisations of the IPEN network is clear: Let us learn from past mistakes and not allow hazardous toxic substances to enter the environment of our homes and to endanger us and our children. Just in the case of the toxic flame retardant HBCD, the states should not repeat the same mistakes as in the case of flame retardants included into the Convention blacklist in the past already. Due to recycling, they enter consumer goods and the environment of our homes,“ says a participant to the negotiations, Jitka Strakova from the Arnika Association. „Moreover, recycling of persistent organic pollutants undermines the good intentions of waste recycling. It is a complete nonsense to return toxic substances into the environment,“ added Strakova.

„On a complicated meeting, which dragged on till late night hours, the participants succeeded in persuading the European Union to withdraw its proposal enabling recycling of products containing HBCD,“ added the head of the Toxics and Waste Programme, Jindrich Petrlik from the Arnika Association, with an optimistic smile.

According to J. Petrlik, the voice of representatives of Africa was important in the meeting. A considerable part of wastes containing brominated flame retardants has ended in this continent, and it would be most damaged by the recycling. A number of African states mention a negative experience that they territory has become a warehouse of toxic waste originating in the European Union and other developed states. The African countries do not have necessary capacities for disposal of wastes containing toxic substances, such as HBCD. Instead, plastic materials are burned in open fire, and toxic flame retardants, as well as heavy metals, directly endanger health of local people, including children. Thus, it is understandable that the African countries do not want to bear further health, as well as financial, burden, and promote a ban of export of such waste into developing countries.

The above-mentioned flame retardant hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD) is added, in particular, into polystyrene, used for heat insulation of our houses. „It is a kind of paradox, because the thermal insulation on the outside, containing the flame retardant, does not prevent in any way ignition inside the house, which is the most common cause of fire, for example in prefabricated houses,“ emphasised the IPEN expert on toxic substances, Joe DiGangi, the somewhat absurd risk of use of the toxic substance. The fact is that the retardant causes a disproportionate burden for human health and the environment. It has proved adverse impacts on human hormonal and reproductive systems. HBCD does not decompose in the environment, it is transported on long distances and accumulates in human and animal adipose tissue – thus, people may consume it in their food. Moreover, it shows properties of persistent organic pollutants, because of which it will be included into the Stockholm Convention blacklist.

In the Czech Republic, HBCD is used, to a large extent, mainly as an additive into polystyrene produced in the company Synthos in Kralupy nad Vltavou. This polystyrene is used in high amounts for thermal insulation of buildings. The Arnika Association will contact The Minister of Environment, in order that he unambiguously ban use of toxic HBCD in projects supported by the Green Savings programme. Presence of this substance was proved also in fish, by a study made by the Institute of Chemical Technology for the Arnika Association in 2010. The highest concentrations in the river Elbe were found in fish caught near Steti.

Photo gallery from the Stockholm Convention meeting in Geneva.

International activities