Plastic that could be harmful

Plastic that could be harmful

and Marc-André Sabourin MISE & Agrave; DAY

A chemical that has been banned for more than 10 years in Canada is still found in everyday plastic objects, suggests tests carried out for our Bureau of Investigation. In one case, the quantity present could be 325 times greater than the European limit. & nbsp;

This is one of the observations made in the great report Microplastics , broadcast on True . It shows how microplastics transport chemicals to the St. Lawrence and threaten species that live there, including the beluga. & Nbsp;

Fifteen plastic products, including toys, electronics and kitchen tools, were analyzed by Malvern Panalytical in Quebec. & Nbsp; & nbsp;

According to their analysis, a battery charger, a camera power adapter and spatula contained bromine, an element which indicates the probable presence of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs).

With prolonged exposure to a very large amount, PBDEs could disrupt the hormonal and reproductive systems, cause cancer, and even reduce children's IQ. & nbsp;

Like revealed by our Bureau of Investigation last Tuesday , researchers suspect that PBDEs contribute to the death of beluga babies in the St. Lawrence.


Canada has banned the sale, importation and use of PBDEs since 2008, with the exception of two variants which were banned in 2016. These products chemicals were previously used in some plastics to reduce the risk of fire. & nbsp;

The importation of products that contain PBDEs is still permitted. The country also has no limit on the maximum amount of PBDEs that can be present in an object. & Nbsp;

This situation shocks Roxana Suehring, associate professor of analytical chemistry at Ryerson University. , in Toronto, who studied PBDEs.

Roxana Suehring, Associate Professor of Analytical Chemistry at Ryerson University, Toronto.

“If a chemical is banned, it should also be banned in products that are imported.”

Control of PBDEs is more stringent in Europe. The RoHS standard, among others, sets a maximum limit of 1000 parts per million (ppm) in plastics in electronic devices.

Based on the European standard, the amount of PBDEs likely to be present in the current adapter tested for us would be 325 times the limit. For the battery charger, that would be 223 times more. & Nbsp;

It is important to note that the adapter dates from 2010, after the entry into force of the Canadian regulations. The date of manufacture of the charger is unknown. & Nbsp;

Nothing on the labels of these products gives consumers any indication that PBDEs would be present. Our reporter used these products until these tests.

Tested objects Results of the analysis

Plastic that could be harmful

Power adapter 325 x greater than standard Positive Battery charger 223 x greater than standard Positive Kitchen utensils 2 x lower than the standard Positive Small car 1 Negative Barbie Negative Doll Negative School bag Negative Hose Negative Filly Negative Synthetic turf Negative Mega Blocks Negative Remote control Negative Small car 2 Negative Doggie Negative Printer Negative

 Plastic that could be harmful

Plastic that could be harmful

Photos Yanick Legrand
Fifteen plastic products, including toys, electronics and kitchen tools, were analyzed by Malvern Panalytical in Quebec. METHODS Malvern Panalytical tested with Epsilon 1, an X-ray fluorescence spectrometry analyzer. The device was calibrated to detect bromine, a marker associated with the presence of PBDEs in plastics. According to Malvern Panalytical, an amount of 300 ppm of bromine corresponds to 1000 ppm of PBDE, which is the maximum limit allowed by the RoHS standard.


The likely amount of PBDE detected in the kitchen spatula purchased in 2021 would be twice the RoHS standard. Given the small amount of bromine found, the expert considers that the presence of PBDEs would possibly be unintentional on the part of the manufacturer. & Nbsp;

As the tests carried out detected bromine, and not PBDEs directly, he It is also possible that the spatula contains another type of brominated flame retardant, points out Ms. Suehring.

These brominated flame retardants are “massively” used as a replacement for PBDEs.


However, studies now show that these molecules “are more often than not just as harmful as PBDEs,” says Roxana Suehring. This is what the experts call a “regrettable substitution”. & Nbsp; & nbsp;

The expert considers that there is no reason to panic given the low quantity of bromine detected in the spatula . & nbsp;

“But, all the same, why not use a wooden spatula, which you don't have to worry about?”

His advice is all the more valid since PBDEs are only one of the many chemical additives used in plastics to modify their properties. & Nbsp;

“There are a lot of trade secrets behind the presence of additives, and we do not know all the risks to health and the environment ”, indicates Geneviève Dionne, ecodesign director at Éco Entreprises Québec. & nbsp;

According to a recent study , more than 10,000 chemical additives are used by the plastics industry worldwide, and the health and environmental effects of 40% of them are unknown. & nbsp; & nbsp;

How to protect yourself from additives Do not heat your food in plastic containers Heat accelerates the diffusion of chemical additives present in plastics. Even a microwave-safe dish or silicone mold made for the oven can contaminate your food. Ask questions Before buying a plastic product, ask the seller what additives are used in it. “Consumers have a lot of power,” says Roxana Suehring. By dint of being questioned, the industry could review its practices. Avoid plastic When other options are available, go for other materials, such as glass, wood and metals. Plastic is a must, but it doesn't have to be the “default” material, says Roxana Suehring.)

Microplastics filters could be imposed & nbsp; & nbsp; & nbsp; & nbsp; & nbsp; & nbsp; & nbsp; & nbsp; & nbsp; & nbsp; & nbsp; & nbsp; & nbsp;

The federal government is considering imposing them to reduce water pollution

Nearly 67 tonnes of microplastics are released annually into our waterways in Quebec.

Ottawa may soon make microplastic filters in washing machines mandatory to reduce plastic pollution in water, our Bureau of Investigation has learned.

“This is one of the options that we are currently studying,” says Steven Guilbeault, Minister of the Environment and Climate Change.

The washing of clothes made of synthetic fabrics is an important source of microplastics in wastewater. Washers spit 6.3 trillion plastic microfibers into Canada's wastewater every year, according to an Ocean Wise study.

Even though treatment plants can filter nearly 95% of microfibers, 0.26 trillion, or 67 tonnes, would be released annually into the country's lakes and rivers, including the St. Lawrence. & Nbsp;

< p> These particles carry with them chemicals that are potentially toxic to the environment and health. & nbsp;

Ottawa is currently studying “the best mechanisms to limit and even completely eliminate the presence of plastic microfibers in our waterways, ”says Steven Guilbeault.

Drawing inspiration from France

The government could thus take inspiration from France, which has already announced that microplastic filters will be mandatory in new washers from 2025. & nbsp;

Microplastic filters for washing machines are already available on the market for environmentally conscious consumers. They sit on the washer's water outlet, and you just need to empty them regularly, much like a dryer lint filter. & Nbsp;

While Ottawa is increasing the announcements about plastic pollution, Quebec is struggling to deliver on its strategy to fight the problem. & Nbsp; & nbsp;

In its latest action plan on residual materials, the government pledged to publish a “government strategy to reduce the use of plastics and single-use products” by 2020.

Expected strategy

Almost two years after this deadline, the strategy is still pending. & nbsp; & nbsp;

Environment Minister Benoit Charette refused to grant an interview to our Bureau of Inquiry. By email, he indicated that plastic pollution is a “concern.” take place this fall. & nbsp;

The ministry is also collaborating with Environment Canada and Quebec universities to study microplastics in water and the environment.

in our homes presented by in 5 minutes

Plastic that could be harmful

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Plastic that could be harmful

22 to 6169 microplastics/m2/day Microplastics are small particles or fibers measuring between 5 millimeters and 2 micrometers: up to 50 times thinner than a hair. Airborne particles are inhaled.

Plastic that could be harmful

1- Toys Children frequently put their plastic toys in their mouths.

Plastic that could be harmful

2- Carpet, carpet Generates suspended particles of microplastics of petrochemical origin: polyethylene, polyamide or polyacrylic.

Plastic that could be harmful

3- Hard floor, floating floor Its coating generates suspended particles of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) by friction.

Plastic that could be harmful

4- Paint To wear, its microplastic particles fall off.

Plastic which could be harmful

5- Linen, Sofa Composed of synthetic fabrics made of plastic, they release particles by friction.

Plastic that could be harmful

6- Electronic devices They may contain PBDEs, additives used to resist flames that can cause cancer or reduce the IQ of children.

Plastic that could be harmful

7- Drinking water Main food source of microplastic: 250 particles per day and per person. Plastic contaminates groundwater and surface water at the source.

Plastic that could be harmful

8- Dish in the microwave Heated in a plastic container, the chemical additives in the plastic diffuse into the food. Sources: University of Newcastle, University of Macquarie, FEM, Bureau of Inquiry; Research: Baptiste Zapirain; 3D: Jean-Hugues Levasseur; infographic: Karine Leblanc

Plastics are not toxic, according to the industry & nbsp; & nbsp; & nbsp; & nbsp; & nbsp; & nbsp; & nbsp; & nbsp; & nbsp; & nbsp; ; & nbsp; & nbsp; & nbsp; & nbsp; & nbsp; & nbsp; & nbsp; & nbsp;

Plastics producers do not consider themselves responsible for the high presence of microplastics and their chemicals in the St. Lawrence River. & Nbsp;

“It is the management of plastic waste that is the key problem, ”says an industry spokesperson. & nbsp;

Elena Mantagaris is the spokesperson for the plastics industry.

“Plastics are not toxic,” says Elena Mantagaris, vice-president of the plastics division at the Chemical Industry Association of Canada (CACL), a major lobby that represents 75 Canadian plastics manufacturers, including Dupont. and Dow Chemical Canada. & nbsp;

The spokesperson also points out that the effects of microplastics on human health have not been demonstrated, and that the industry follows government rules for use of chemicals.

Recycle 100%

Despite everything, she believes “we must eliminate plastics from the environment to keep them in the economy.” a “circular economy”. Plastic waste would thus be recycled to become the raw material of the industry instead of being buried or lost in nature. ACIC has set itself the goal that 100% of plastics will be “recyclable” by 2030, and “recycled” by 2040, says Ms. Mantagaris.


According to several experts consulted by our Bureau of Investigation, microplastics can be emitted long before a plastic product is discarded. & Nbsp; & nbsp;

Granules are also found in lakes and rivers of the country and come from the producers of the plastics industry.

Geneviève D’Avignon, a doctoral student at McGill University who studies microplastics, gives the example of a sweater made of polyester. When worn or washed, it will “produce small fibers that will break apart and end up in the environment.”

In some cases, the microplastics found in the environment come in. from the plastics producers themselves. & nbsp;

This is the case with plastic granules, which are normally melted down to make plastic objects. These small and light granules are regularly lost during transport. In 2020, 13% of microplastics found by researchers in the waters of the Port of Toronto were granules. & Nbsp; & nbsp;

They are still very present in waterways, including the Great Lakes. & Nbsp;

“It is clear that we need to improve our practices,” admits Ms. Mantagaris.

Recycling: Wrong solution?

Geneviève D’Avignon is a doctoral student at McGill University studying microplastics.

Even recycled plastic generates microplastics and nanoplastics in the environment. “It's always good to recycle,” insists Geneviève D’Avignon, doctoral student at McGill University. But reducing our plastic consumption would further reduce the amount of microplastics that ends up in nature, she says.

 Plastic that could be harmful

 Plastic that could be harmful

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