Poor design practices - Gaseous emissions from complex products
Table of Contents
1 General Information on the Project
Gaseous emissions from several complex household and office appliances, leisure products and some materials for interior decoration have been analyzed for this study using microwave thermal desorption and highly sensitive gas chromatography.
The experiments reveal that a wide range of volatile chemical compounds were emitted from those 19 products chosen at random. More than one hundred different compounds have been identified.
Some of the detected chemicals are of widespread use, e.g., mixtures of aliphatic and aromatic hydrocarbons, aliphatic alcohols and ketones as solvents and phenols or phthalates as plastic additives while others were found in single products only. Many of the identified compounds are toxic. Moreover, several carcinogens, sensitizers and endocrine disruptors were also detected.
Analytical results of similar products made in different countries vary considerably. This indicates differences in product quality, production conditions and occupational health standards from one country to another. This also indicates poor product design. The international development towards global sourcing, mainly in connection with economic concepts of lean production in Western countries, ignores environmental and health aspects of products. These products are primarily designed to be cost efficient and to meet some aesthetic requirements.
The manufacture of products or product components has been shifted to suppliers or sub-suppliers, often based in fast-developing economies or developing countries, where costs of labor are low. Health & safety and environmental regulations are insufficient or non-existent. Western manufacturers often only assemble components of the final product. Their product specifications generally do not contain a definition regarding the use or avoidance of certain chemicals.
The indoor concentrations of single substances emitted from some of the products were calculated on the basis of special conditions. Recent scientific research has shown that even very low concentrations of chemical substances, especially due to their synergistic effects, can cause many severe health problems. An increasing number of people are suffering from one or more chronic conditions, including immune disorders like allergic reactions, Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS), Sick Building Syndrome (SBS), Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), and even health effects caused by the disruption of the endocrine system.
Depending on the general physical condition, nutrition, gender and especially age, the effects of chemical substances in our everyday environment may vary. Children are especially susceptible to physical damage from environmental chemicals. The large number of chemical substances also suggests that there are many more unknown synergistic effects. It is to be expected that far worse effects will only be revealed some time in the future.
The results of the experiments in this study indicate poor product design which is an unnecessary burden on humankind and the environment. These products are not recyclable but primitive technologies. To avoid health and environmental problems in the future, product design must be changed. There is a demand for Intelligent Products which fulfill the criteria for a Sustainable Product Design.
Main criteria for an Intelligent Product Design is the avoidance and elimination of mutagenic, teratogenic, carcinogenic, fertility decreasing, endocrine disrupting, bioaccumulative and persistent chemical compounds and those suspected to be.
Besides, a number of measures which are the necessary requirement for the control of these chemical substances, environmental and health aspects have to be emphasized for development of products and during productions processes. Applying environmental and health relevant criteria in product design have to become a substantial part of a modern product quality.
2 List of Products
Emission experiments were carried out on 19 different products chosen at random which are commonly used in offices, households and for leisure activities. The following table lists all assessed products.
|3||cellular phone||office (mobile)|
|4||digital answering machine||office|
|5||answering machine (tape)||office|
|8||electric shaver (Germany)||household|
|9||electric shaver (China)||household|
|11||electric hand mixer||household|
|12||swimming armlet||leisure time|
|14||portable CD-player||leisure time|
|15||casual shoe||leisure time|
|17||wallpaper (vinyl type)||interior decoration|
|18||carpeting (natural fiber)||interior decoration|
|19||carpeting (synthetic fiber)||interior decoration|
The analysis by gas chromatography / mass spectrometry leads to a gas chromatogram as shown on the following pages. Each signal (peak) in the gas chromatogram corresponds to a certain chemical compound. The respective peak is marked with the name of the compound. The height respectively the area of each peak represents the concentration of the compound in the purge gas sample and is directly proportional to the emission rate of the chemical compound from the appliance. To compare the results of the different products, the emissions rates have been standardized.
In this summary of the study, gas chromatograms of 2 products are shown as examples.
The complete study includes a list of all emitted and identified chemical compounds, which were emitted from the above mentioned 19 products.
The emission rate is calculated at 1 m² surface (one side).
|Main compounds emitted||2-ethylhexanol
several alkylated cyclohexanes
|Emission rate (total)||2,520 µg/h**m2|
|Compound with highest emission rate||2-ethylhexanol|
|Emission rate||249 µg/h* m2|
|Most hazardous compounds||toluene (suspected to be teratogenic)|
The emission of 2-ethylhexanol from the wallpaper was the highest observed emission rate of a single substance in this project.
The mixer was analyzed after 15 minutes in operation.
|Main compounds emitted||BHT
|Emission rate (total)||20 µg/h|
|Compound with highest emission rate||BHT|
|Emission rate||1.1 µg/h|
|Most hazardous compounds||trichloroethylene
(suspected to be carcinogenic)
BHT (suspected to be sensitizing)
The experiments show that a large number of chemical substances emit from the products. The emission rates vary considerably for each product ranging from 5 to 165µg/h respectively from 250 to 2500 µg/h*m2. The above calculations indicate the emitted quantities of single compounds lead to very low concentrations in indoor air, which are not acutely toxic with respect to classical approaches. Nevertheless, those emissions may induce health hazards, because these approaches do not take into consideration long-term low dose effects and synergistic effects of the large number of different chemicals.
Therefore emissions have to be reduced by changing production processes and re-designing the products.
5 Order Form 1997 Project Report
Gaseous emissions from several complex household and office appliances, leisure products and some materials for interior decoration have been analyzed for this study using microwave thermal desorption and highly sensitive gas chromatography. The experiments reveal that a wide range of volatile chemical compounds were emitted from those 19 products chosen at random. More than one hundred different compounds have been identified. The results and further information have been compiled in this study.
Contents: Chemical complexity of modern products; health and environmental effects of emitted chemicals; experimental (19 product examples); requirements and alternatives: Intelligent Product Design.