Plastic Factory Fires: Killer Phthalates

Tyseley Industrial Estate, West Midlands
2nd June 2016, Great Bridge, West Midlands

And one YouTube dramatic coverage of a 2013 fire at a Recycling Centre in Sheffield.

It is helpful to read this article, written over twenty years ago, which describes how different plastics burn. The Firefighters who attend a plastics factory fire need to understand which are the likely plastics burning at the site. It seems to take so long to make sure we live in a safe environment. So many barriers, regulatory and economic, prevent swift action to overcome these threats to communities with plastic factories sited in their midst.

After any toxic fire where evacuations of local communities have occurred, there is a monitoring process such as this service described here. But no amount of monitoring will bring much comfort to those affected.

Plastic toys used to delight children at Christmas usually were made from one particularly nasty group of chemicals, Pthalates. We have been buying such a huge variety of goods since Pthalates were incorporated into the plastics manufacture process

The FDA, 2013 tells us:

Phthalates are a group of chemicals used in hundreds of products, such as toys, vinyl flooring and wall covering, detergents, lubricating oils, food packaging, pharmaceuticals, blood bags and tubing, and personal care products, such as nail polish, hair sprays, aftershave lotions, soaps, shampoos, perfumes and other fragrance preparations.

As early as 2013, research was beginning to show worrying signs, but it had taken decades to alert us to the dangers:

Six studies from four different prospective cohorts report that gestational BBzP, DEHP, di-butyl phthalate (DBP), and di-ethyl phthalate (DEP) exposures are associated with alterations in infant/toddler physical development as well as parent-reported externalizing, internalizing, and autistic-like child behavior.Author: Joseph M. Braun, Sheela Sathyanarayana, Russ HauserCited by: 280Publish Year: 2013

There are many different types of pthalates, and all must be researched in order to link them to proven harm. As always, if we study the wildlife we can usually show the damage ahead of finding harm in humans. Based on recent research on ants, scientists have concluded that the high levels of phthalates in the bodies of insects around the world are the result of phthalates in the air. [1]

Phthalates are called “endocrine disruptors” because they affect the body’s hormones by mimicking them or blocking them. They interfere with the body’s natural levels of estrogen, testosterone, and other hormones, which is why they are called “disruptors.” Endocrine disruptors are hard to study for several reasons: 1) we are exposed to very small quantities from many different sources every day, 2) researchers have proved that, unlike other chemicals, these appear to have more serious effects at lower levels than at higher levels.[3] Usually, we assume that the higher the dose or exposure, the greater the harm, but endocrine disruptors play by different rules. The director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Linda Birnbaum, says that chemical manufacturers are asking “old questions” when they test for safety even though “science has moved on.”[4]

And, yes. You’ve guessed it. They are a major cause of colon cancer.

So now we read about ‘Restrictions of Phthalates’:

EU Expands Restriction of Phthalates Under REACH

January 1, 2019

The EU has added DIBP and expanded the scope from toys and childcare articles to articles in entry 51 to Annex XVII of REACH. The new law will be implemented in phases, starting January 7, 2019.

SAFEGUARDS | Consumer Prod NO. 002/19

But let’s not rush, let us do this gradually so no corporate will suffer.

We know packaging is changing. that is because our diet is believed to be the main source of phthalates because fatty foods such as milk, butter and meats are commonly packaged or stored in plastics containing this dangerous toxin. And a 2018 study gives us even more reason to pay attention to this everyday threat. Researchers at George Washington University compared phthalate levels in people who ate home-cooked meals to those who frequently dined out at restaurants, cafeterias and fast-food outlets. The results? On average, people who are eating food prepared outside of the home have nearly 35 percent higher levels of phthalates circulating in their bodies.

See this article for further everyday language understanding of the threats and how to make efforts to avoid excess disruptors.

The 12 worst endocrine disrupters are known as the “Dirty Dozen List of Endocrine Disruptors”and include:

  • Bisphenol-A (BPA)
  • Dioxin
  • Atrazine
  • Phthalates
  • Perchlorate
  • Fire retardants
  • Lead
  • Arsenic
  • Mercury
  • Perfluorinate chemicals
  • Organophosphate pesticides
  • Glycol ethers

And what of the fires, the images I began this blog with? No wonder we breathe harmful chemicals around the world, everywhere, every corner of the world. Oil based chemicals have been destroying all life on the Planet since we began to invent applications and patted ourselves on the back for our brilliance.

Just try to avoid unnecessary purchases of products this last article warns us about. We already have houses full of these items, but try to reduce consuming these and help our children to spot them and replace them with safer items whenever they can. A tall order? Yes, it is. But let us now ask for Extended Producer Responsibilty to be enforced worldwide.

About borderslynn

Retired, living in the Scottish Borders after living most of my life in cities in England. I can now indulge my interest in all aspects of living close to nature in a wild landscape. I live on what was once the Iapetus Ocean which took millions of years to travel from the Southern Hemisphere to here in the Northern Hemisphere. That set me thinking and questioning and seeking answers. In 1998 I co-wrote Millennium Countdown (US)/ A Business Guide to the Year 2000 (UK) see https://www.abebooks.co.uk/products/isbn/9780749427917
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