Plastics and the Dangers of Plastic Additive Contamination on Food, Drink and the Environment

Background
Endocrine Disrupters
Types of Endocrine Disrupters
How Endocrine Disrupters Work
Bisphenol A or BPA
Effects of BPA
Phthalates
How to Avoid Contaminating Food and Drink
Reducing the Use of Plastic

Background

We've all now heard the warnings that potentially dangerous chemicals can leach from plastic containers into food and drink but what are these chemicals, how do they get out of the plastic and what dangers do they pose?

Endocrine Disrupters

The main concern with chemicals from plastics is with endocrine disrupters These are substances that, after entering the body, change hormonal function. Although other contributing factors are at work, evidence is mounting that endocrine disrupters leached from plastic food and drink containers are partially to blame for afflictions such as obesity, early puberty, hyperactive children, declining fertility rates and some cancers.

Types of Endocrine Disrupters

Endocrine disrupters include chemicals like bisphenol A, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxins, cadmium, parabens, phthalates and polybrominated flame retardants.

How Endocrine Disrupters Work

Endocrine disrupter chemicals tend to work as xenoestrogens that mimic natural estrogen in the body. This causes a hormonal imbalance in hormone critical areas of development such as the reproductive system. This results in disruptions to fertility and pregnancy plus increased chance of cancers in reproduction related areas of the body like the breasts, prostate and uterus.

Other chemicals like phthalates are antiandrogenic and interfere with testosterone function.

Fetal exposure to these chemicals can result in abnormal sexual development and cancers that don't grow until adulthood. As these chemicals can cross the placenta and be carried in breast milk, both unborn and newborn children can be exposed to the chemicals.

Bisphenol A or BPA

Bisphenol A or BPA is an ingredient in plastics widely used for food packaging and other areas that contact people. BPA is commonly used in the production of epoxy resins and polycarbonates that end up being used in applications including plastic bottles, bottle tops, plastic cutlery, food containers, toys, lining food and beverage cans, dental products, medical equipment and water pipes. As BPA is an ingredient in printing inks and some paper products, it enters the recycling chain and is found in recycled paper products including paper based food containers and paper towels.

BPA doesn't remain in the plastic but leaches out and migrates into adjacent substances like water, food or even, saliva. The leaching of BPA is accelerated by heat, acidic or alkaline substances and by washing. BPA also leaches into the environment and groundwater. Ingestion into the body is typically via food or drink but it can also be inhaled or enter via the skin. The result is that almost everyone has BPA within their bodies in readily measurable quantities.

Effects of BPA

Research on the risk present in BPA is all relatively recent and although plastics industry research concludes that there is little to no risk, independent tests have found significant effects caused by BPA.

The effects of BPA have been found to mirror adverse human health conditions that have arisen in the past 50 years. These conditions include breast and prostate cancers, infertility caused by egg abnormalities and/or poor sperm motility, type-2 diabetes, obesity, autism and cardiovascular disease.

Phthalates

Phthalates are used as softeners in PVC plastics and are endocrine Disrupters Phthalates readily migrate from plastics and predominantly cause problems with the male reproductive system. In females, phthalates are associated with endometriosis and early breast development.

How to Avoid Contaminating Food and Drink

Although legislation is changing to ensure many food containers such as baby bottles are free of additives like BPA, there are other ways to ensure you minimize exposing your food and drink to contaminants.

Linings of canned foods mean that canned food is likely to be the largest source of BPA ingested via our diet and canned foods should be minimized. Food should be removed from plastic containers before being microwaved. Labels that say plastic containers are microwave safe only mean the container will not melt and don't refer to the danger of anything leaching from the plastic. Avoid bottled water and don't refill single use bottles, recycle them.

Cook with metal, glass and wooden containers and utensils.

Reducing the Use of Plastic

Reducing the use of plastic products also results in additional benefits for the environment. Plastic products use non-renewable resources and are largely discarded when finished with. This contributes to landfill, pollution and environmental damage.

Source: AZoCleantech

Date Added: Aug 11, 2009
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