Parents, beware. That watercolour set you bought your child might come with toxic chemicals. This has been discovered in the black plastic casings of watercolour sets sold in the Philippines.

According to the toxics watchdog group EcoWaste Coalition, 10 out of 20 watercolour sets with black plastic components bought from shops selling school supplies that they analysed, were found to contain bromine ranging from 1,724 to 6,527 parts per million (ppm) and antimony ranging from 251 to 1,125 ppm. The rest of the samples had traces of bromine and/or antimony.

The chemicals are known components of health-damaging brominated flame retardant (BFR) chemicals.

BFRs are synthetic chemicals added to consumer products to prevent or slow the spread of fire and reduce fire-related injury and damage. Humans are exposed to BFRs, which can leach from the products they are used in, through the ingestion of contaminated food, dust and water and through skin exposure.

According to the US National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), “adverse effects (of exposure to flame retardants) may include endocrine and thyroid disruption, immunotoxicity, reproductive toxicity, cancer, and adverse effects on fetal and child development and neurobehavioral function”.

Water colour sets with recycled black plastic casings containing bromine and antimony.

“Children are more vulnerable to toxic effects because their brains and other organs are still developing,” the NIEHS said.

Chemicals Came from Recycled E-Waste Plastic Containing BFRs

“The detection of chemical elements bromine (atomic number 35 and chemical symbol Br) and antimony (atomic number 51 and chemical symbol Sb) on the black plastic of the analysed art materials indicates the likely use of recycled plastic from electronic waste (e-waste) containing BFRs. The plastic casings of TVs, computers and other electronic gadgets are usually black, producing black plastic when recycled,” says the Ecowaste Coalition in their press release on the matter.

“The use of recycled e-waste plastic in school supplies, toys and other consumer products provides a direct route of exposure to BFRs, especially among children. Stringent control measures are required to halt the unregulated use of recycled plastic e-waste in the manufacture of consumer articles which spread BFRs into new products and into children’s hands, mouths and bodies,” said the group’s national coordinator Aileen Lucero.

“While laboratory analysis is needed to identify the specific BFRs present in the products screened by the EcoWaste Coalition, the presence of bromine and antimony on watercolour sets that are not required to meet fire safety standards shows the inappropriate recycling of plastic e-waste with BFRs into consumer products, and the urgency of establishing a health- and environment-protective limits for POPs’ content in waste to ensure a non-toxic circular economy,” said Jitka Strakova, Global Researcher, International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN).

To protect human health and the environment, some BFRs have already been listed in the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), including Penta-, Octa-, and Deca- Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs), Hexabromocyclododecane (HBCDD), and Hexabromobiphenyl (HBB).

The low POPs content limits for wastes should be at levels that will prevent recycling of POP-BFRs into new products, as well as prohibit the export of wastes containing POP-BFRs to low- and middle- income countries, the EcoWaste Coalition and IPEN emphasised.