An article published on February 9, 2017 in the peer-reviewed journal Science of the Total Environment reports on the levels of antimony (Sb) in various consumer products made of plastic. Andrew Turner from Plymouth University, UK, and Montserrat Filella from the University of Geneva, Switzerland, used a portable X-ray-fluorescence (XRF) spectrophotometer to measure antimony in over 750 items, 108 of them being food contact articles. Among these, two products were made of polyvinylchloride (PVC) and most others were labeled as polyethylene terephthalate (PET).

The highest levels of antimony, up to 60,000 µg/g, were found in white electronic casings. The two PVC-made food packaging items did not contain detectable antimony. The 14 food contact articles with antimony detected at concentrations ranging from about 200 to 900 µg/g included plastic trays for vegetables, confectionery, fish, and ready meals, along with straws, single-use drink bottles, and a cool bag. Data on co-occurrence of bromine and chlorine indicated that the presence of antimony in food packaging was likely due to its use as a catalyst and not as a flame retardant or a contaminant from recycled plastics.

Antimony is a metalloid similar to arsenic, with suspected cancerogenic properties. Antimony trioxide (Sb2O3, CAS 1309-64-4) is used as a catalyst in the manufacture of PET. Migration from PET into food, enhanced by higher temperatures and higher acidity, has been demonstrated. Along with two other antimony compounds, this substance has been included in the list of chemicals chosen for evaluation within the Community Rolling Action Plan (CoRAP) for 2017-2019 (FPF reported). Evaluation of antimony compounds is scheduled for 2018 and will be carried out by Germany.

Reference

Turner, A., and Filella, M. (2017). “Field-portable-XRF reveals the ubiquity of antimony in plastic consumer plastics.Science of the Total Environment 584-585:982-989.