Brominated flame retardants in black plastic kitchen utensils: Concentrations and human exposure implications

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Concerns exist that restricted brominated flame retardants (BFRs) present in waste polymers may have, as a result of recycling, inadvertently contaminated items not required to meet flame retardancy regulations (e.g. plastic kitchen utensils). To investigate the extent to which kitchen utensils are contaminated with BFRs and the potential for resultant human exposure, we collected 96 plastic kitchen utensils and screened for Br content using a hand-held X-ray fluorescence (XRF) spectrometer. Only 3 out of 27 utensils purchased after 2011 contained detectable concentrations of Br (≥3μg/g). In contrast, Br was detected in 31 out of the 69 utensils purchased before 2011. Eighteen utensils with Br content higher than 100μg/g, and 12 new utensils were selected for GC-MS analysis of BFRs. BFRs targeted were polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) BDE-28, 47, 99, 100, 153, 154, 183 and 209, and novel BFRs (NBFRs) pentabromoethylbenzene (PBEB), 2-ethylhexyl-2,3,4,5-tetrabromobenzoate (EH-TBB), 1,2-bis(2,4,6-tribromophenoxy)ethane (BTBPE), bis(2-ethylhexyl)-3,4,5,6-tetrabromo-phthalate (BEH-TEBP) and decabromodiphenyl ethane (DBDPE). The ability of XRF to act as a surrogate metric of BFR concentration was indicated by a significant (Spearman coefficient=0.493; p=0.006) positive relationship between Br and ΣBFR concentration. Measurements of ΣBFRs were always exceeded by those of Br. This may be due partly to the presence of BFRs not targeted in our study and also to reduced extraction efficiency of BFRs from utensils. Of our target BFRs, BDE-209 was the most abundant one in most samples, but an extremely high concentration (1000μg/g) of BTBPE was found in one utensil. Simulated cooking experiments were conducted to investigate BFR transfer from selected utensils (n=10) to hot cooking oil, with considerable transfer (20% on average) observed. Estimated median exposure via cooking with BFR contaminated utensils was 60ng/day for total BFRs. In contrast, estimated exposure via dermal contact with BFR-containing kitchen utensils was minimal.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1138-1146
Number of pages9
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Early online date30 Aug 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2018


  • Journal Article
  • BFR
  • kitchen utensil
  • recycled plastic
  • human exposure
  • UK


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