Over 16,000 chemicals lurk in everyday plastics, new report exposes

A shocking study unveils a hidden danger within our midst: over 16,000 chemicals, many hazardous, are embedded in the plastics that fill our homes and touch our lives.

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A recent groundbreaking study by European scientists has cast a new light on the chemical complexity of plastics, revealing the presence of over 16,000 chemicals, many of which pose significant risks to both environmental and human health. This revelation far surpasses the figures previously identified, bringing to light new concerns about the safety of everyday items ranging from food packaging to children’s toys.

The study, conducted by PlastChem and highlighted in a recent report, identified a staggering 4,200 chemicals within plastics that are “of concern” due to their hazardous nature. This finding is particularly alarming given that less than one percent of these chemicals can be classified as “non-hazardous,” raising significant questions about the long-term impacts of widespread plastic use.

“Chemicals are a central aspect of the plastics issue. Although there is a wealth of scientific information on plastic chemicals and polymers to inform policymakers, implementing this evidence is challenging because information is scattered and not easily accessible,” the PlastChem report elaborates on the complexities of addressing this issue.

The urgency of these findings comes amid global efforts to forge the world’s first comprehensive plastics pollution treaty, aimed at curtailing the 440.9 million tons of plastic waste generated annually. Jane Muncke, a co-author of the report and managing director of Switzerland’s Food Packaging Forum, emphasized the necessity of a holistic approach: “To robustly solve plastic pollution, you actually have to look at the full life cycle of plastics and you have to address the chemicals issue.”

The potential for these chemicals to leach into consumables, thereby entering the human body, presents a dire risk, particularly for children. The report points out, “It is now well established that many phthalates are endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs).” Highlighting the gravity of the situation, the report adds, “Some phthalates have been banned in Europe and other regions. Further, UV-328, due to its persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic properties has been added to the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants in 2023.”

Addressing the issue of plastic waste through recycling and reuse strategies alone is deemed insufficient by the report’s authors. A greater level of transparency is needed regarding the chemicals used in plastics, including those present as processing aids, additives, and impurities.

The report reveals a concerning fact: “The fundamental chemical identity of a quarter of plastics is unknown.” This lack of clarity exacerbates the challenge of regulating and ensuring the safety of plastic products. “At the core of the problem is the chemical complexity of plastics,” stated Wagner, reflecting on the industry’s opaque practices.

With international regulations covering a mere six percent of plastics chemicals, the upcoming negotiations in Ottawa, Canada, for a global plastics treaty could serve as a critical juncture in addressing these concerns. The report concludes with a call to action, stating, “Addressing plastic chemicals and polymers of concern comprehensively is expected to result in substantial benefits for the environment and human health.”

As the scientific community and policymakers grapple with the implications of these findings, the need for decisive action has never been clearer. The safety of future generations and the preservation of environmental health hinge on the ability to confront and mitigate the hidden dangers lurking within the very materials that populate our daily lives.

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Ruth Milka started as an intern for NationofChange in 2015. Known for her thoughtful and thorough approach, Ruth is committed to shedding light on the intersection of environmental issues and their impact on human communities. Her reporting consistently highlights the urgency of environmental challenges while emphasizing the human stories at the heart of these issues. Ruth’s work is driven by a passion for truth and a dedication to informing the public about critical global matters concerning the environment and human rights.

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