Environmental and health hazard ranking and assessment of plastic polymers based on chemical composition

Sci Total Environ. 2011 Aug 15;409(18):3309-24. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2011.04.038. Epub 2011 Jun 12.


Plastics constitute a large material group with a global annual production that has doubled in 15 years (245 million tonnes in 2008). Plastics are present everywhere in society and the environment, especially the marine environment, where large amounts of plastic waste accumulate. The knowledge of human and environmental hazards and risks from chemicals associated with the diversity of plastic products is very limited. Most chemicals used for producing plastic polymers are derived from non-renewable crude oil, and several are hazardous. These may be released during the production, use and disposal of the plastic product. In this study the environmental and health hazards of chemicals used in 55 thermoplastic and thermosetting polymers were identified and compiled. A hazard ranking model was developed for the hazard classes and categories in the EU classification and labelling (CLP) regulation which is based on the UN Globally Harmonized System. The polymers were ranked based on monomer hazard classifications, and initial assessments were made. The polymers that ranked as most hazardous are made of monomers classified as mutagenic and/or carcinogenic (category 1A or 1B). These belong to the polymer families of polyurethanes, polyacrylonitriles, polyvinyl chloride, epoxy resins, and styrenic copolymers. All have a large global annual production (1-37 million tonnes). A considerable number of polymers (31 out of 55) are made of monomers that belong to the two worst of the ranking model's five hazard levels, i.e. levels IV-V. The polymers that are made of level IV monomers and have a large global annual production (1-5 million tonnes) are phenol formaldehyde resins, unsaturated polyesters, polycarbonate, polymethyl methacrylate, and urea-formaldehyde resins. This study has identified hazardous substances used in polymer production for which the risks should be evaluated for decisions on the need for risk reduction measures, substitution, or even phase out.

MeSH terms

  • Environmental Pollutants / chemistry
  • Environmental Pollutants / classification
  • Environmental Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Hazardous Substances / classification
  • Hazardous Substances / toxicity*
  • Humans
  • Models, Chemical
  • Plastics / chemistry
  • Plastics / classification
  • Plastics / toxicity*
  • Polymers / chemistry
  • Polymers / classification
  • Polymers / toxicity*
  • Risk Assessment


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Hazardous Substances
  • Plastics
  • Polymers