Portable X-ray fluorescence for the detection of POP-BFRs in waste plastics

Martin Sharkey, Mohamed Abou-Elwafa Abdallah, Daniel S Drage, Stuart Harrad, Harald Berresheim

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7 Citations (Scopus)
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The purpose of this study was to establish the efficacy of portable X-ray fluorescence (XRF) instrumentation as a screening tool for a variety of end of life plastics which may contain excess amounts of brominated flame retardants (BFRs), in compliance with European Union (EU) and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) legislative limits (low POP concentration limits - LPCLs). 555 samples of waste plastics were collected from eight waste and recycling sites in Ireland, including waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), textiles, polyurethane foams (PUFs), and expanded polystyrene foams. Samples were screened for bromine content, in situ using a Niton™ XL3T GOLDD XRF analyser, the results of which were statistically compared to mass spectrometry (MS)-based measurements of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), hexabromocyclododecane (HBCDD) and tetrabromobisphenol-A (TBBP-A) concentrations in the same samples. Regression between XRF and MS for WEEE samples shows that, despite an overall favourable trend, large deviations occur for a cluster of samples indicative of other bromine-based compounds in some samples; even compensating for false-positives due to background interference from electronic components, XRF tends to over-estimate MS-determined BFR concentrations in the 100 to 10,000 mg kg-1 range. Substantial deviations were additionally found between results for PUFs, textiles and polystyrene samples, with the XRF over-estimating BFR concentrations by a factor of up to 1.9; this is likely due to matrix effects influencing XRF measurements. However, expanded (EPS) and extruded polystyrene (XPS) yielded much more reliable estimations of BFR-content due to a dominance of HBCDD in these materials. XRF proved much more reliable as a "pass/fail" screening tool for LPCL compliance (including a prospective LPCL on Deca-BDE based on REACH). Using a conservative threshold of BFR content exceeding legislative limits (710 mg kg-1 bromine attributed to Penta-BDE), XRF mistakenly identifies only 6 % of samples (34/555) as exceeding legislative limits.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)49-57
Number of pages9
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Early online date26 May 2018
Publication statusPublished - 15 Oct 2018


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