The Problem with Plastics

Phthalates and Bisphenol A are man-made, endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Endocrine-disrupting chemicals also called EDC’s or endocrine disruptors can mimic the body’s own hormones which can lead to negative health effects.

Phthalates are industrial chemicals added to plastic products to make them softer or more flexible. These products include toys, flooring, vinyl (tiles, shower curtains, raincoats, etc.), plastic bags, inflatable toys. Phthalates also are also added to many cosmetics and personal care products as stabilizing agents. These products include scented lotion, shampoo, perfume, aftershave, nail polish, and hair spray. They are even included in baby products. The danger in phthalates is that they are not chemically bonded to the product, which means that the chemicals can leach out over time. For example, a new vinyl shower curtain can elevate indoor air toxics concentrations for over a month. (Environmental Working Group)

Bisphenol A is an industrial chemical that has been used to make certain plastics and resins since the 1960s. “BPA is found in polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins. Polycarbonate plastics are often used in containers that store food and beverages, such as water bottles, and baby bottles and cups. They may also be used in toys and other consumer goods. Epoxy resins can be used to coat the inside of metal products, such as food cans, baby formula cans, bottle tops and water supply lines. Some dental sealants and composites also may contain BPA. And certain thermal paper products, such as cash register receipts, may contain BPA.” (Mayo Clinic)

The National Institue for Health describes “Why People are Concerned about BPA?” “One reason people may be concerned about BPA is because human exposure to BPA is widespread. The 2003-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III) conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found detectable levels of BPA in 93% of 2517 urine samples from people six years and older. The CDC NHANES data are considered representative of exposures in the United States. Another reason for concern, especially for parents, may be because some animal studies report effects in fetuses and newborns exposed to BPA.” (National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences – National Institute for Health)

More recently it was noted in the New York Times that “Human Exposure to BPA ‘Grossly Underestimated‘”

How these affect our bodies, in short, BPA mimics estrogen, while phthalates block testosterone action. BPA is already, irreversibly, in our bodies, our soil, our air. The body burden has been researching the impact of the buildup of these chemicals in our bodies. And the results of their research is alarming.

“In a study led by Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, in collaboration with the Environmental Working Group and Commonweal, researchers at two major laboratories found an average of 91 industrial compounds, pollutants, and other chemicals in the blood and urine of nine volunteers, with a total of 167 chemicals found in the group. Like most of us, the people tested do not work with chemicals on the job and do not live near an industrial facility.

Scientists refer to this contamination as a person’s body burden. Of the 167 chemicals found, 76 cause cancer in humans or animals, 94 are toxic to the brain and nervous system, and 79 cause birth defects or abnormal development. The dangers of exposure to these chemicals in combination has never been studied.” Environmental Working Groups Body Burden

 “Of the more than 80,000 chemicals in commerce, only a small percentage of them have ever been screened for even one potential health effect, such as cancer, reproductive toxicity, developmental toxicity, or impacts on the immune system. Among the approximately 15,000 tested, few have been studied enough to correctly estimate potential risks from exposure. Even when testing is done, each chemical is tested individually rather than in the combinations that one is exposed to in the real world. In reality, no one is ever exposed to a single chemical, but to a chemical soup, the ingredients of which may interact to cause unpredictable health effects.” (The Body Burden)

It’s not just activist groups that report the lack of testing; the US environmental protection agency reports that “Of the 3,000 chemicals that the US imports or produces at more than 1 million lbs/yr, a new EPA analysis finds that 43% of these high production volume chemicals have no testing data on basic toxicity and only seven percent have a full set of basic test data.” (US EPA HPV Chemical Hazard Data Availability Study).

And unfortunately, until the time that scientists can prove that endocrine disruptors like BPA and phthalates are causing these problems, these chemicals will continue to be used.  In fact, there are so many unregulated products on the market with endocrine disruptors being used today that t if a time comes when we do have direct links, it will be nearly impossible to recall all these products. Even more frightening, it will be too late for our health, as these chemicals leech into our environment and are already present in our soil, water, air and bodies. Currently, oversight and testing on chemicals, regulation and legislation about chemical use and disposal is horribly antiquated.

Activists have been fighting to have the seriously outdated Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) revised and replace with the Safe Chemicals Act. But until then, it is up to us to be aware of these chemicals and do our part to minimize exposure to them. Further, because that is likely not enough, I believe it is also up to us to fight to get these chemicals removed until proven safe, not vice versa.

While estrogen is a naturally occurring hormone, high levels, especially artificially high levels have been linked to increase in many cancers, including breast, prostate, testicular, thyroid, and pancreatic cancers. In December the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) added estrogen to its list of known cancer-causing agents.” (Columbia University Health Sciences article “Estrogen’s Role in Cancer”)

“It’s disconcerting to think that a natural hormone circulating in significant amounts through the bodies of half the world’s population is a carcinogen, but it’s now official. In December the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) added estrogen to its list of known cancer-causing agents.” (Columbia University Health Sciences article “Estrogen’s Role in Cancer”)

While the link between estrogen and cancer and so many other chronic diseases may be new, the connection between BPA and estrogen is not new. In fact, BPA was first developed as an estrogen replacement and was only used in products when scientists discovered that it also had the ability to make plastics clear and strong.


2 thoughts on “The Problem with Plastics

  1. Pingback: Purging the Plastic « Better Living Through Nature

  2. Pingback: Living in a Toxic World | Healthy Balanced Future

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