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Cancer risk from dumped breath kits

Environmental group says breathalysers contain cancerogenic chemical and should be discarded properly

NOW that millions of drivers must carry a breathalyser, environmental group Robin des Bois is asking how to dispose of used ones - as they contain a carcinogenic substance.

Group president Jacky Bonnemains said that with 38million cars on the road and with the kits having a two-year lifespan, there was the potential for 80m balloons being discarded each year, complete with their potassium dichromate contents.

Now he has written to Ecology Minister Delphine Batho reminding her that the chemical is a cancerogen, can cause genetic damage and is very toxic to aquatic life.

He said it should be kept out of reach of children and discarded carefully - and not just thrown out with household rubbish as the manufacturers recommend.

He has asked her to look at setting up a special collection for used balloons, similar to what is already in place for batteries or low-energy lightbulbs. While manufacturers had to meet the Norme Française standard there was no such standard for disposal of the units. Manufacturers should meet the costs.

The ministry said that they would "think over" the need for a new collection system as the new Déchets diffus spécifiques (DDS) system for dangerous substances such as solvents, paints, varnish and fire extinguishers may not be able to cope.

However, a spokesmen said there was very little of the chemical in each test so the risk from accidentally swallowing some of the contents was low, limited to a runny nose or a throat infection.

Contralco, the only French manufacturer of the breath tests, denied that the kits were dangerous. It said its units contained 500 times less chrome than suggested by Robin des Bois and used a type which was turned to a less toxic form on exposure to air.

However, scientists from the Société Chimique de France and the Maison de la Chimie have backed the Robin de Bois call, saying the quantities of kits involved demanded more care. It also said the balloons should be kept away from children: in the boot of the car and not the glovebox.

Further reading:
STORY: Breath tests ‘hard to find’
Photo: Firenight -

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