July 31, 2012, Beijing – A Greenpeace investigation has found an alarming range of hazardous chemicals in dust collected from households in various Chinese cities. These synthetic substances most likely come from materials used in making consumer products, such as electronics, and fashion. This indicates that China’s poor regulation of industrial chemicals is leaving a deep environmental footprint, a chemical assault.
"In an indoor environment, household dust does more than indicate the levels of these hazardous chemicals; it is a means by which people are exposed to them. This means that the very dust that yielded these results represents a toxic danger to the people living in the households from which it was collected," said Wang Weikang, Greenpeace Toxics Campaigner.
In March and April, Greenpeace collected dust from a total of 11 households, located in 5 different Chinese cities, namely Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Changsha. It then sent the samples to an independent laboratory in the Netherlands for testing of four groups of hazardous chemicals: Phthalates, Brominated Flame Retardants (PBDEs & HBCD), Organotins, and Perfluorinated Chemicals.
“There was no clean sample,” Wang said. The results show that all four groups of hazardous chemicals exist in each of the 11 dust samples. Scientific studies have linked these chemicals with disrupting the endocrine system, immune system, nervous system, and reproductive system.
“It’s frightening to realize that while the existence of hazardous chemicals seems to be rampant, China’s regulation of these chemicals is nothing more than minimal,” said Wang Weikang.
Chinese authorities have, so far, enacted almost no regulation of these chemicals, despite their apparent toxicity, except for a limitation of PBDEs in electronics. In contrast, some other countries are already committed to working towards “zero discharge” of them.
“China will accelerate its slide into a toxic future if it does not start regulating the use of these chemicals now,” adds Wang Weikang. “Some countries in the developed world, such as the EU member states, already have a roadmap for phasing them out. It is vital that China catches up.”
Greenpeace strongly urges the Chinese government to embrace a toxics-free future by setting up a robust chemical management system based on the precautionary principle and the substitution principle (1). The plan must cover all chemicals known or suspected to be toxic to the environment and human health, and must emphasize the systematic elimination of the most hazardous ones. An information disclosure mechanism must also be established to ensure the public’s access to information about hazardous chemicals in consumer products and information about the environment in which they live.
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(1) Precautionary principle: In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by States according to their capabilities. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation. (“Rio declaration” principle 15)
Substitution principle: hazardous chemicals should be systematically substituted by less hazardous alternatives or preferably alternatives for which no hazards can be identified.