The Presence of Halogenated Flame Retardants and Heavy Metals Suggests Electronic Waste Recycling in Mardi Gras Beads

Student Author(s)

Meghanne Tighe

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Graham Peaslee


Jeff Gearhart and Karla Peña, Ecology Center, Ann Arbor, MI

Document Type


Event Date



Gas Chromatography/Mass Spectroscopy (GC/MS), Scanning Electron Microscope/Energy Dispersal Spectroscopy (SEM/EDS), and X-ray Fluorescence (XRF) were utilized to detect halogenated flame retardants as well as heavy metals in Mardi Gras beads. XRF was the primary method of elemental detection and GC/MS allowed for the identification of specific flame retardants found within the beads. XRF spectroscopy revealed that the majority of beads had concentrations of bromine above 400 ppm and concentrations of chlorine above 3,500 ppm, suggesting widespread use of brominated and chlorinated flame retardants. XRF data also showed that over 64% of the beads had lead concentrations greater than 100 ppm, which is the U.S. Consumer Product and Safety Commission (CPSC) limit for lead in children’s products. Several flame retardants which are known to originate from printed circuit boards and various plastic housings for electronics were found by GC/MS to be present in the beads. SEM/EDS identified silicon, aluminum and other typical e-waste constituents in most of the beads. The similar elemental compositions of Mardi Gras beads and e-waste indicate that significant recycling of e-waste into polystyrene beads is occurring.


This research was supported by the National Science Foundation (Grant No. NSF-RUI 1306074).

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