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European researchers create database for chemicals in plastic packaging

Products - Plastic bottles © Art Allianz -

A group of NGOs and scientists have developed a database containing more than 4,000 chemicals potentially found in plastic packaging.

The research project Hazardous chemicals in plastic packaging: State of the art, prioritisation, and assessment, aims to establish which chemicals in plastic packaging are of most concern to human health and the environment, and to identify potential alternatives.

The researchers (see box) examined information sources, such as the US EPA's chemicals and products categories database (CPCat), books and reports on the use of chemicals in plastics, and commercial websites on plastic additives.

From these, they established a list of 4,285 chemicals that may potentially be present in plastic packaging, including 908 which were likely to be associated with plastic packaging. 

Of the 908 chemicals, they used CLP harmonised hazard data and EU classifications of endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDC), persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic (PBT)/very persistent and very bioaccumulative (vPvBs) to identify 68 chemicals most hazardous for the environment and 64 most hazardous for human health from the 908 likely to be in use. 

First results of the project were presented at the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (Setac) conference, which took place in Rome in May. 

The database will be made publicly available in early July. 

‘Lack of openness’

Jane Muncke, managing director of the Food Packaging Forum, which is leading the project, said the database does not provide a complete list of the most hazardous chemicals used in plastic packaging. This is because there is no harmonised toxicity classification available for many of the chemicals and researchers faced barriers imposed by commercial confidentially.

She said that because of businesses withholding information on confidential business information (CBI) claims, there is a massive gap in knowledge. CBI is hampering our ability to protect human health and the environment from chemicals of concern, she said.

Dr Muncke told Chemical Watch that supply chain information did not "seem to work well" because businesses fear "sharing too much information, which could impact negatively on a competitive advantage".

This lack of information means "thorough risk assessment is not possible," she said, and "it becomes a values-based decision to either assume that unknown chemicals in plastic packaging are safe or not". 

ChemTrust executive director, Michael Warhurst, said the project had revealed "the lack of openness about the chemicals used in everyday products".

"I think that it’s past time for the general assumption of confidentiality on chemicals in products to be challenged. It’s making it hard for downstream users and consumers to make informed choices on what chemicals they want to use," he added. 

The project is funded by a grant from the charitable Swiss-based Mava Foundation and will run until mid-2019.

Over the next 12 months, the project will look at potential alternatives to the most hazardous chemicals.

Partners in the project:

  • The Food Packaging Forum;
  • ChemTrust;
  • ChemSec;
  • University of Gothenburg; and
  • Vrije University.

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