Plastic plague

Posted: 23 August 2000

A new study released by WWF-Germany reports that many plastic goods contain toxic chemical additives that are capable of disrupting hormones and posing danger to the environment and human health.

"Plastics can make life comfortable and colourful - but plastics also pose dangers. Manufacturers should use only toxic free materials for their plastic products. It is irresponsible to expose babies and young children to goods containing dangerous substances," said Patricia Cameron, WWF´s toxics expert. "Some of these chemicals are persistent and accumulate in the food chain."

Brominated flame retardants protect foams in building materials, mattresses and cars, and computers and TV casings from catching fire. One brominated flame retardant is suspected of causing cancer, others may be linked to abnormalities in development and behaviour. The chemicals leak out of the plastic when heated or in contact with water, and can accumulate within the food chain.

"While no effective regulation is in place, consumers should protect their children's health by avoiding goods made of soft PVC because they contain high levels of phthalates," added Patricia Cameron. Softeners, so called phthalates, are added to PVC-products to increase flexibility. Phthalates come out of the plastics either through contact with water, fat or saliva, or by evaporation. They enter humans via mouth, skin or lungs. For babies and small children this load may rise to levels causing health defects because of intensive contact with toys and furniture containing PVC and contaminated food.

Organotin compounds like dibutyltin (DBT) allow plastics to be used under high temperatures and ensure that UV-radiation and heat do not make PVC-products rough. However, they may affect the immune system and contain tributyltin (TBT), a known endocrine disruptor. Additionally, TBT is used in textiles and floorings to avoid growth of bacteria, mould and algae. Organotin compounds find their way into the body via skin, and reach rivers and the oceans either directly or via sewage plants, finally accumulating in marine animals including fish for human consumption.

"Consumers can minimise contamination through the skin and respiratory tract by choosing consumer goods and furniture without hazardous additives. This would not only protect their own health, but send a clear message to manufacturers that substances posing danger to health and the environment are no longer acceptable," concluded Patricia Cameron.

Related links:

For further information, contact: Patricia Cameron, WWF-Germany, Tel: +49 4216584616. Or see the WWF website at:

For more on plastic waste, see Plastic Conundrum