A range of plastic consumer products and components thereof have been analysed by x-ray fluorescence (XRF) spectrometry in a low density mode for Br as a surrogate for brominated flame retardant (BFR) content. Bromine was detected in about 42% of 267 analyses performed on electronic (and electrical) samples and 18% of 789 analyses performed on non-electronic samples, with respective concentrations ranging from 1.8 to 171,000μgg(-1) and 2.6 to 28,500μgg(-1). Amongst the electronic items, the highest concentrations of Br were encountered in relatively small appliances, many of which predated 2005 (e.g. a fan heater, boiler thermostat and smoke detector, and various rechargers, light bulb collars and printed circuit boards), and usually in association with Sb, a component of antimony oxide flame retardant synergists, and Pb, a heavy metal additive and contaminant. Amongst the non-electronic samples, Br concentrations were highest in items of jewellery, a coffee stirrer, a child's puzzle, a picture frame, and various clothes hangers, Christmas decorations and thermos cup lids, and were often associated with the presence of Sb and Pb. These observations, coupled with the presence of Br at concentrations below those required for flame-retardancy in a wider range of electronic and non-electronic items, are consistent with the widespread recycling of electronic plastic waste. That most Br-contaminated items were black suggests the current and recent demand for black plastics in particular is met, at least partially, through this route. Given many Br-contaminated items would evade the attention of the end-user and recycler, their disposal by conventional municipal means affords a course of BFR entry into the environment and, for food-contact items, a means of exposure to humans.



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Science of the Total Environment

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School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences


Bromine, Consumer products, Electronic waste, Recycling, XRF