International study shows that poor plastic waste disposal methods can cause contamination in eggs

A study conducted on eggs has produced evidence that plastic waste disposal--including the export of plastic waste--can cause the contamination of the food chain.

(Photo by Hybrid / Unsplash)

Released by the International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN) with the EcoWaste Coalition, the report involved the study of eggs obtained near a hazardous waste incinerator in Trece Martires City, Cavite and in a neighborhood in Caloocan City where e-waste dismantling is taking place.

The acquisition of egg samples near similar environments in 13 other countries was also carried out by other non-government organizations like the EcoWaste Coalition in line with the study.

"Eggs were used to assess contamination with persistent organic pollutants (POPs) because of their significant lipid content where POPs like dioxins can accumulate, and because eggs from contaminated areas can readily lead to exposures that exceed thresholds for the protection of human health," a statement from the coalition read on Sunday, June 27.

The eggs were then analyzed for dioxins, a highly toxic byproduct POP of open burning, crude recycling, chemical production, and incineration technologies. Additionally, the eggs were analyzed for other POPs known as flame retardants that have been banned or are in the process of being banned globally through the Stockholm Convention on POPs.

The group said that even small amounts of these plastic chemical additives and byproduct emissions can cause damage to the immune and reproductive systems, cancers, impaired intellectual functions, and/or developmental delays.

"Based on the laboratory analyses, the analyzed eggs from 14 countries contained some of the most toxic chemicals ever studied, many of which are banned or regulated, including chemical additives polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and short-chained chlorinated paraffins (SCCPs), and unintentional byproduct POP like dioxins," it said.

The report found that the levels of dioxin and PCBs in eggs in some locations were so high that residents could not eat a single egg without exceeding the health safety threshold limits for these chemicals established in the European Union (EU).

Aside from the Philippines, thr countries Belarus, Cameroon, the Czech Republic, Gabon, Ghana, China, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Mexico, Tanzania, Thailand, and Uruguay, also took part in the eggs analysis. The samples were studied in European laboratories.

Egg samples collected near facilities in seven African and Asian countries where plastic waste is or was either used as fuel or incinerated, often in combination with other waste, were found contaminated with extremely high levels of dioxin. For example, egg samples obtained near tofu factories using plastic waste as fuel in Tropodo, Indonesia had dioxin levels between 140 to 200 pg TEQ g-1 fat, way in excess of the EU’s limit of 2.5 pg TEQ g-1 fat for chlorinated dioxins in eggs.

Eggs from the Philippines had dioxin levels ranging from 5.3 to 53 pg TEQ g-1 fat.

"This global study provides advocates for a zero waste and toxics-free society in our country with critical data to justify strong policy solutions to curb plastic and chemical pollution, including a ban on hazardous waste imports such as electronic waste and plastic waste often disguised as scraps for recycling, a ban on non-environmentally acceptable products and packaging, and the enforcement of the ban on waste incineration, including proscribing burn or thermal waste-to-energy technologies," noted EcoWaste Coalition Chemical Safety Campaigner Thony Dizon.

The group pointed out that using non-combustion alternative methods, instead of waste-to-energy incineration technologies, for the treatment of hazardous waste and other wastes can prevent the creation of unintentional POPs during the burning of such wastes.

IPEN's POPs Policy Advisor Lee Bell stated: "This report confirms that the harm being caused by plastic waste exports is not limited to visible litter and pollution but includes the insidious damage to human health caused by contamination of the food chain in importing countries. Toxic chemical additives and the world's most hazardous substances are literally bleeding into the food supply of those countries least able to prevent it."

The report recommends global controls on hazardous chemicals in plastic, including the phase-out on the use of such chemicals in plastic production in any new United Nation plastic treaty negotiations.

The report also calls on the plastic industry to invest in safe plastic alternatives, eliminate toxic chemical additives to plastics, list plastic ingredients on labels, and create closed-loop systems that don't create toxic waste.