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EU flame retardants threshold still too high, say NGOs

A new concentration limit on toxic flame retardants such as decaBDE is a "permission slip" to contaminate children's toys,  according to some NGO.

The new limit of 500 mg/kg for brominated flame retardants, known as BDEs, was agreed last week, when the EU Council of Ministers reached a provisional agreement with the European Parliament to update the Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) Regulation.

The Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), Arnika Association and the International POPs Elimination Network (Ipen) said that by endorsing this limit the European Parliament and Council "accept leav[ing] our children at risk of contamination from persistent organic pollutants".

The new threshold is 'unintentional trace contaminant value' for the cumulative sum of all BDEs, including decaBDE, where they are present in mixtures and articles. This is half the level initially proposed in the parliament, but still significantly higher than the level NGOs campaigned for.

The NGOs said a study they conducted last year found that 92% of laboratory tested consumer products, including plastic toys, purchased in 19 European countries are contaminated with BDEs. The flame retardants primarily come from recycled electronic waste.

The chemicals are known to disrupt the thyroid function and cause neurological and attention deficits in children and are "nothing to play with", the NGOs said.

And the new rules conflict with obligations under the Stockholm Convention, which prohibits the recycling of articles containing decaBDE, said Joe DiGangi, Ipen's senior science and technical advisor. "This sets the stage for a conflict at the upcoming Conference of the Parties."

Contamination through the recycling of BDEs also unintentionally introduces dioxins, another group of highly hazardous substances, into recycled plastic products, the NGOs said.

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