Field-portable-XRF reveals the ubiquity of antimony in plastic consumer products.
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Very little systematic information exists on the occurrence and concentrations of antimony (Sb) in consumer products. In this study, a Niton XL3t field-portable-X-ray fluorescence (FP-XRF) spectrometer was deployed in situ and in the laboratory to provide quantitative information on Sb dissipated in plastic items and fixtures (including rubber, textile and foamed materials) from the domestic, school, vehicular and office settings. The metalloid was detected in 18% of over 800 measurements performed, with concentrations ranging from about 60 to 60,000μgg(-1). The highest concentrations were encountered in white, electronic casings and in association with similar concentrations of Br, consistent with the use of antimony oxides (e.g. Sb2O3) as synergistic flame retardants. Concentrations above 1000μgg(-1), and with or without Br, were also encountered in paints, piping and hosing, adhesives, whiteboards, Christmas decorations, Lego blocks, document carriers, garden furniture, upholstered products and interior panels of private motor vehicles. Lower concentrations of Sb were encountered in a wide variety of items but its presence (without Br) in food tray packaging, single-use drinks bottles, straws and small toys were of greatest concern from a human health perspective. While the latter observations are consistent with the use of antimony compounds as catalysts in the production of polyethylene terephthalate, co-association of Sb and Br in many products not requiring flame retardancy suggests that electronic casings are widely recycled. Further research is required into the mobility of Sb when dissipated in new, recycled and aged polymeric materials.
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