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Thousands of Plastic Chemicals Harmful to Human Health, Environment, Report Claims

The “PlastChem Report” released today includes a database that lists 16,000 known plastic chemicals, more than a quarter of which it classifies as hazardous.

Norbert Sparrow

March 14, 2024

3 Min Read
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The PlastChem Report released today purports to provide “essential scientific information on plastic chemicals” in a single, comprehensive resource. More than 16,000 chemicals are included in the database that accompanies the report, many of which “are hazardous [and] can damage human health and the environment,” according to academics and scientists who worked on this project.

Key findings itemized by the researchers include:

  • Just over one-quarter of the plastic chemicals — at least 4,200 — are of concern because of their high hazards to human health and the environment.

  • More than 400 chemicals of concern can be present in each major plastic type, including in food packaging, and all tested plastics leached hazardous chemicals.

  • For making plastics safer, novel approaches to regulate plastic chemicals are needed, including hazard-based identification of groups of plastic chemicals of concern.

A tool for the global plastics treaty

Calling the report a wake-up call, Martin Wagner, a professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology Trondheim, said governments across the globe want to tackle the plastics problem. “The report provides the much-needed scientific evidence to make plastics safer for the environment and for us humans,” added Wagner, who is the PlastChem project coordinator and lead author of the report. As the press release makes explicit, the report’s release is timed to coincide with the next meeting on the global plastics treaty to regulate plastic pollution that is currently being negotiated under the leadership of the United Nations Environment Program. The fourth round of sessions is scheduled for April 21 to 30, 2024, in Ottawa.

Related:Not All Countries Are Equal at Global Plastics Treaty Talks

"A strong treaty will solve this planetary crisis and enable a transition to a safer and sustainable circular economy,” notes the PlastChem Report press release.

Reality check from the American Chemistry Council

Responding to the report, the American Chemistry Council (ACC) said it is “encouraged” by the call for greater transparency around the use of plastic additives and the associated potential health risks but regrets that the use of a “hazard-based approach” is contrary to the stated purpose of using an “evidence-based path forward.” The hazard framework “ignores real-world exposures and paints an incomplete picture for regulators and the public," said the ACC.

“This contrasts with risk assessments, used to underpin the most effective chemical management laws,” noted Kimberly Wise White, PhD, ACC vice president of regulatory and scientific affairs.

White also stressed the many benefits that plastic additives provide, including extending the life of wind turbines, saving energy through lightweighting, and preventing food spoilage via plastic packaging.

Moreover, the report also “disregards the significant work underway to increase governments' chemical management capacities,” said White, citing the newly adopted Global Framework on Chemicals (GFC). “Under the GFC, countries work toward implementing legal frameworks to evaluate chemicals in a holistic manner, taking into consideration all uses of a chemical, not just their use as plastic additives. The global chemical industry has committed to supporting the buildout of chemical management capacity in 30 countries by 2030 where chemical management regulations do not yet exist,” said White.

About the Author(s)

Norbert Sparrow

Editor in chief of PlasticsToday since 2015, Norbert Sparrow has more than 30 years of editorial experience in business-to-business media. He studied journalism at the Centre Universitaire d'Etudes du Journalisme in Strasbourg, France, where he earned a master's degree.


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