Environmental and health hazard ranking and assessment of plastic polymers based on chemical composition

Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences, University of Gothenburg, P.O. Box 461, 405 30 Göteborg, Sweden.
Science of The Total Environment (Impact Factor: 4.1). 06/2011; 409(18):3309-24. DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2011.04.038
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Plastics constitute a large material group with a global annual production that has doubled in 15 years (245 million tonnes in 2008). Plastics are present everywhere in society and the environment, especially the marine environment, where large amounts of plastic waste accumulate. The knowledge of human and environmental hazards and risks from chemicals associated with the diversity of plastic products is very limited. Most chemicals used for producing plastic polymers are derived from non-renewable crude oil, and several are hazardous. These may be released during the production, use and disposal of the plastic product. In this study the environmental and health hazards of chemicals used in 55 thermoplastic and thermosetting polymers were identified and compiled. A hazard ranking model was developed for the hazard classes and categories in the EU classification and labelling (CLP) regulation which is based on the UN Globally Harmonized System. The polymers were ranked based on monomer hazard classifications, and initial assessments were made. The polymers that ranked as most hazardous are made of monomers classified as mutagenic and/or carcinogenic (category 1A or 1B). These belong to the polymer families of polyurethanes, polyacrylonitriles, polyvinyl chloride, epoxy resins, and styrenic copolymers. All have a large global annual production (1-37 million tonnes). A considerable number of polymers (31 out of 55) are made of monomers that belong to the two worst of the ranking model's five hazard levels, i.e. levels IV-V. The polymers that are made of level IV monomers and have a large global annual production (1-5 million tonnes) are phenol formaldehyde resins, unsaturated polyesters, polycarbonate, polymethyl methacrylate, and urea-formaldehyde resins. This study has identified hazardous substances used in polymer production for which the risks should be evaluated for decisions on the need for risk reduction measures, substitution, or even phase out.

    • "These monomers can leach out of the polymeric material and, as some of these are considered toxic (including carcinogenic and mutagenic effects), they can pose a threat to the environment. This effect can be estimated based on the monomer hazard ranking as described by Lithner et al. (2011). Most hazardous polymers belong to the families of polyurethanes, polyvinyl chloride and styrene, amongst others (Lither, 2011). "
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    • "Global nylon-12 shortages in recent years (Advisen, 2013) have afforded new opportunities within the materials field. The hazards associated with the manufacture of these materials are documented (Thiemens and Trogler, 1991) and represent an opportunity for alternative biocatalytic methods (Lithner et al., 2011). "
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    • "Since the middle of the 20th century, the rapid development of the fossil fuel-based plastics industry has led to extensive use of conventional plastics in many sectors. However, it is now well acknowledged that increasing consumption of fossil fuel-based plastics causes very serious environmental problems such as land and water pollution, bioaccumulation, recycling and greenhouse effects [1] [2] [3]. As such, the worldwide interest in replacing fossil fuel-based plastics with natural and biodegradable polymers has 1385-8947/Ó 2015 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved. "
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