Peer-Reviewed Publication: Toys, Décor, and More...

Published on September 10, 2016

"Toys, Décor, and More: Evidence of Hazardous Electronic Waste Recycled into New Consumer Products"

Journal of Environmental Protection, 2016, vol. 7, 341-350. 

By Gillian Z. Miller, Meghanne E. Tighe, Graham F. Peaslee, Karla Peña, and Jeff Gearhart

Read the full text here

For this study, Ecology Center researchers mined three years' worth of data from testing 1,500 consumer products for hazardous substances. We also teamed up with researchers at Hope College in Michigan to figure out why our testing repeatedly showed many Mardi Gras beads contained remarkably high levels of bromine and heavy metals.


Hazardous chemicals used in electronic and electrical consumer products can re-enter commerce when these products are recycled. The objectives of this study were to 1) identify the possible sources of unexpected chemicals and elements in consumer products, including the use of recycled E-waste plastics and 2) demonstrate bromine detection with nondestructive spectroscopy as an indicator of brominated flame retardants contaminating new products via recycled waste streams. More than 1,500 consumer products of diverse types purchased in 2012-2014 were examined using X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy for correlations between bromine and other elements. New electronic products were much more likely than new non-electronics to contain greater than 1,000 ppm bromine, consistent with intentionally added flame retardants, while nonelectronic products were more likely to contain between 5 and 100 ppm bromine, suggesting unintentional contamination. A typical suite of elements present in E-waste was found in a majority of plastic products. Two product categories, vinyl floor tiles and beaded necklaces/garlands, were explored in more detail. Specific flame retardant chemicals in bead samples were identified by mass spectrometry and their distribution in beads was studied using scanning electron microscopy and energy dispersive spectroscopy. Five brominated chemicals typically used as flame retardants, including BDE-209, were identified in 50 of 50 Mardi Gras beads analyzed.