Plastic pellet samples collected from Bangladesh contain 12 toxic chemicals, posing a number of serious health risks to the human body – from causing certain types of cancers to damaging the nervous, respiratory and immune systems.
The concerning revelation came in a global study titled “Toxic Chemicals in Plastic Pellets: A Growing Public Health Crisis,” conducted by the International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN), a network of NGOs from 35 countries.
IPEN’s Bangladeshi partner NGO Environment and Social Development Organisation (ESDO) revealed the study’s findings on Thursday, adding that the researchers collected 195 pellet samples from the Cox’s Bazar beach and bought 250 Kg of recycled pellets from the market.
Collected in 2019, those samples were tested in a laboratory in the USA. Shahriar Hossain, secretary general of ESDO, was the lead author in the study.
The study examined the presence of 18 chemical additives that are found in recycled pellets available on the market around the world. Of these, 12 have confirmed health impacts, while information on the remaining six is insufficient to determine their safety.
Found in the plastic pellet samples in Bangladesh, these chemicals – Bisphenol A, eight of the Brominated flame retardants, and three of the UV Stabilisers – can cause harm to human health.
All of the samples collected from every location contained all 10 Benzotriazole UV Stabilisers (BUVs), a group of chemicals, and all 13 Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), another group of manmade chemicals.
The concentrations of individual BUVs in this study ranged from 1-5082 monograms per gram pellet. Half of the locations had samples with PCB levels that were highly polluted ranging between 1-4188 monograms’ per gram pellet.
Endocrine disrupting chemicals are responsible for alterations in sperm quality and fertility. It can cause abnormalities in sex organs, early puberty, altered nervous system function, respiratory problems, diabetes, and obesity.
These chemicals can impact immune function and cause certain cancers. These also may create cardiovascular problems, growth, neurological and learning disabilities.
Lead author of the study, Shahriar Hossain told The Business Post, “These chemicals can enter the human body directly as micro-form as part of the food chain through marine species. After entering the body, these chemicals affect lungs, kidney and stomach.
“In some cases, all 12 chemicals can cause cancer.”
Plastic is a byproduct of petroleum. During the process of making pellets, some chemicals are added to the product and more chemicals are mixed during the manufacturing process. Chemicals are also used during the plastic recycling process.
Shahriar added, “Food grade plastics are a false concept, created in collaboration with businessmen and politicians for making money by boosting plastic industries. No plastic can truly be food grade.”
How did pellets come to the beach?
According to the study, pellets came to the beach both from local sources, and from trans-boundary movement of plastic waste.
ESDO’s Executive Director Siddika Sultana said, “Most of the pellets came to the beach through trans-boundary movement. Some countries are dumping pellets into the sea but we are suffering.
“Chemicals in pellets seem very normal nowadays. But those are doing serious harm to human health and the environment. The regional counties need to work together to stop trans-boundary movement of plastic waste pellets. It is not possible for any one country to stop it.”
The study recommended halting import-export of plastic waste containing toxic chemical additives, and accelerating the phase-out of groups of toxic chemicals. It also suggested using regulations to promote non-chemical alternatives that support the transition to a circular economy.
If some additives are essential for specific plastic products, the safety of those additives should be confirmed by a third party organisation, the research added.