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25 comments

Poisonous Plastics - Part Two: Human Effects

Posted October 29, 2007 12:00 AM by Sharkles

Only last week, I was okay with my daily routine. Before work I'd have my bowl of cereal topped with milk from a plastic jug, grab my plastic Nalgene water-bottle, and be out the door. This past week, I passed up the plastic gallon at the grocery store and have been looking at my once-beloved Nalgene a little differently. I look at my surroundings at home, work, and at school in astonishment as I realize that most things in my life are plastic.

Why the change? In Poisonous Plastics – Part One I talked about the massive vortex of plastic and other garbage floating in the Pacific Ocean. This mass of garbage is becoming problematic for marine life and seabirds as it's become a major part of their diet. Some of you are thinking "okay, that's just survival of the fittest", but what you may not know is that plastics can have serious effects on humans too.

Think about it. Every one of our senses comes into contact with plastics. Plastics even brought you to this webpage (i.e., your keyboard, mouse, etc.). Plastic is useful for many things; it's convenient, easy to mold, relatively inexpensive, and can be manipulated with numerous additives for many purposes. But what is the cost associated with plastics? Answer: your health.

In 1997 the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began to refer to plastics as "food contact substances" instead of "indirect food additives". The new label sounds better than the old one, right? The plastics industry claims that the process of polymerization binds chemicals together so that they are no longer toxic to humans; however, polymerization doesn't always result in perfect chemical binding. This means that toxic chemicals in plastics are able to migrate into whatever they contact.

When chemicals migrate into food substances, they transmit toxins into our bodies. Serious health effects from chemical migration include physical deformities, cancer, early puberty, immune deficiencies, endometriosis, behavioral problems, impaired memory, and reduced hand-eye coordination. These health effects are due to low-doses of endocrine disruptors (EDs), substances that interfere with the physiologic function of endogenous hormones. The three most common plastics associated with these health risks are polyvinyl chloride (PVC) #3, polystyrene (PS) #6, and "other" plastic #7 which includes polycarbonates (PC).

Polyvinyl chloride plastics are used in making toys, vinyl products, food packaging, cosmetics, and other consumer goods. PVC is linked to cancer, birth defects, genetic changes, chronic bronchitis, vision failure, and other ailments. Similarly, polystyrene plastics are used for making food containers, CD cases, disposable cutlery, building insulation, packaging peanuts, and disposable hot-drink cups. PS has been shown to cause irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat. Additionally, the chemicals in polystyrene can store body fat and elevate rates of lymphatic and hematopoietic cancers.

"Other" #7 plastics include polycarbonates with Bisphenol A, an estrogen receptor agonist. Bisphenol A can activate estrogen receptors in the body that have similar effects as the body's own estrogens. These hormones are responsible for regulating puberty and the growth of bones, skin, organs, and tissues. Too much of this hormone increases a woman's chances of getting breast cancer, and may result in lower sperm counts and prostate cancer among men.

Bisophenol A is the agent under the most scrutiny when it comes to the effects of plastic. Researchers believe that this chemical has become embedded into our environment as a building block and producer of polycarbonate plastic, epoxy resins, and other plastics. Bisophenol A is known for its use in baby bottles, Nalgene bottles (oh no!), and other hard-plastic applications. It has also been used in the creation of pesticides, fungicide, antioxidants, flame retardants, and rubber chemicals.

Researchers are continuing to investigate the harmful effects of plastics on humans, especially those containing Bisphenol A. From what I've read, plastics may pose a serious risk to human health. Each encounter with plastic may provide only a low-dose of carcinogens, but most people have multiple encounters with plastic on a daily basis. Plastics aren't the only materials which contain potentially-dangerous chemicals, but that doesn't mean that plastic isn't harmful.


What do you think?

  • Do you believe that plastics pose a health risk for humans?
  • Should these potential risks be covered more prominent in the mainstream media?

This is Part 2 of a three-part series. Be sure to check back next week to find out what alternatives to plastic are available.


Resources:
http://www.mindfully.org/Plastic/plastic.htm
http://www.worldandi.com/public/2001/October/ee.html
http://endo.endojournals.org/cgi/content/full/138/5/1777
http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/opa-notf.html
http://www.ourstolenfuture.org/NewScience/oncompounds/bisphenola/2005/2005-0310calafatetal.htm
http://www.peopleandplanet.net/doc.php?id=2595
http://www.ecologycenter.org/factsheets/plastichealtheffects.html
http://www.mindfully.org/Plastic/6th-Basic-Food-Group.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plastic#Negative_health_effects
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/08/070804101711.htm
http://axcessnews.com/index.php/articles/show/id/11938

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#1

Re: Poisonous Plastics - Part Two: Human Effects

10/29/2007 8:17 AM

My answers are ..

No & No,

However we should.

1. Use less

2. Recycling this stuff not just slinging it away.

3. Make it biodgradable.

(the reason fot my No, No answer is I believe many things are toxic if exposure is sufficient and we are sufficiently health & safety paranoid already...kids aren't allowed out to play any more...... the stuff we all did as kids would be banned.

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#4
In reply to #1

Re: Poisonous Plastics - Part Two: Human Effects

10/30/2007 6:56 AM

Hi Del. "The stuff we did as kids would be banner!" I'll second that. We used to shoot at each other with bows and arrows, climb trees (and sometimes fell out of the damned trees) but we were healthier, more alert to danger and it prepared us for adult life. Spencer.

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#24
In reply to #4

Re: Poisonous Plastics - Part Two: Human Effects

11/05/2007 5:29 PM

Plastics are no more dangerous than glass or any other container methods we utilize. I have just excavated an old burn dump landfill from the 1970s, no plastics remain there, no paper; just metals, ash, and glass bottles. I would suspect some people were initially disgruntled about glassware replacing pottery. We just replace potential heavy metals exposure with potential carcinogen exposure. The issue is managing our waste to provide a satisfactory living environment for humanity. This may include some aesthetics such as preserving certain endangered species that can not adapt to mans presence and are suffering the effects of natural selection, but we find pleasing to have around (note people never seem to feel the same about preserving ants, cock roaches, spiders, rats, etc.).

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#25
In reply to #1

Re: Poisonous Plastics - Part Two: Human Effects

03/07/2008 6:44 PM

A biologist from the University of Missouri said on NPR last week that the FDA and the EPA had convened a meeting of 38 scientists who have been studying bisphenol-A. In describing the meeting, he presented very convincing evidence that the levels of this chemical previously described as harmless are in fact quite dangerous, hormonally, to both adults and children.

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#2

Re: Poisonous Plastics - Part Two: Human Effects

10/30/2007 12:30 AM

When we had the chance to choose between glass and plastic we chose plastic. Now that glass is no longer available, what else can we do as consumers?

Your bumping up against the petrochemical industry, and your on the losing side. Its always about the money. If you can prove the adverse relationships to human health then the only approach left is the courts. Find enough victims and file a class action suit. Your not going to win, but it could bring enough attention to this important issue that it might give the glass manufacturers another shot at the packaging market. With oil going to 100 dollars a barrel, the economics of glass VS plastics may be worth revisiting. Give the consumer additional incentive regarding health effects and maybe there is a chance to bring back some glass; something I always choose if given the choice.

Gavilan

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#3
In reply to #2

Re: Poisonous Plastics - Part Two: Human Effects

10/30/2007 5:36 AM

I fully agree with your concern. On top of that, pigments are a very, very expensive thing, in many cases exceeding the price used up for the resin used in the packging (even though a small percentage is used). The food-contact additives are usually twice or three times as much as the already expensive additives. We "eat" this stuff every day and I'm positive that there's more than one supplier out there that either doesn't know, doesn't care, or he's just too stingy to put the right ones in their packaging.

On the other hand, what about the impact of the increase in the weight in packaging by moving back to glass? It's not about the money, that's just green stuff, i mean the increase in oil we'll be using up just to carry glass back and forth and the direct impact by means of more exhaust gases.

I, like many others, dream with this being sorted, but seems like a far-fetched utopia. Personally, I'm not doing much to change it either.

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#12
In reply to #2

Re: Poisonous Plastics - Part Two: Human Effects

10/30/2007 11:23 AM

A glass container is much heavier than the plastic equivalent. It therefore requires more petroleum to transport it to the point of sale. And more expensive to dispose of it. Most plastic containers are readily recycled in most areas. How much oil/energy is required to create the same glass equivalent? You might not like the answer.

I'd wager that glass has a much higher carbon footprint than the equivalent plastic container from womb-to-tomb.

Class action lawsuit: ONLY THE LAWYERS WIN. Ever. This an one abomination of our legal system that needs to be eliminated.

We need more research on the health effects. As a species, we're healthier than ever before, all with increased use of plastics. I'd like to see more data on the real health effects. Research with careful analysis of the same product, packaged different ways and the amount of these chemicals "leached" into the consumable product. Many of these research studies use elevated levels to study the effects and assume that lower levels are also toxic but proportionally lower. However, we are not a linear organism, so I always take those studies with a grain of salt.

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#13
In reply to #12

Re: Poisonous Plastics - Part Two: Human Effects

10/30/2007 2:18 PM

Dear Brave Sir Robin,

It warms my heart to see you have addopted some of my concerns since last we threaded together.

I do agree with Del about the recycling and all the over protective bs nowadays.

I do however think that some plastics are more dangerous to us than others and one poster above did mention the greed and the money thing. There are safe plasticides and safe pigments to use on foodgrade plastics but who is checking them out for us?

No need for mass hysteria but don't completely close our eyes either.

More research is needed but when that comes up with findings, we need less talking and more progressive action.

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#14
In reply to #12

Re: Poisonous Plastics - Part Two: Human Effects

10/30/2007 2:28 PM

Glass is also a much more lethal weapon. I don't remember hearing about anyone being cut w/a broken plastic bottle!

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#16
In reply to #14

Re: Poisonous Plastics - Part Two: Human Effects

10/30/2007 2:30 PM

Steven Segal kills with a credit card! that is plastic

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#5

Re: Poisonous Plastics - Part Two: Human Effects

10/30/2007 8:31 AM

BEER E MONATE MO BOJALWA I remember on the posters in Botswana

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#6
In reply to #5

Re: Poisonous Plastics - Part Two: Human Effects

10/30/2007 8:48 AM

whatever that means - but anyway, I would prefer glass over plastic as glass is readily recycleable and not as big a problem if disposed of as it will grind down to the sand it came from.

I don't believe plastics are necessarily a danger to health and there is no data to support this yet. Of course if you want to be paranoid you might say that the asbestos and tobacco industries covered up the health hazards of their products for years and I wouldn't put it past the petrochemical companies to do the same.

On the other hand glass is heavier and thus incurrs a cost in transport. It also takes up more space and is an immediate hazard if broken.

There are trade-offs in any decision of this type. It would seem that society has, for the time being, chosen plastic.

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#8
In reply to #5

Re: Poisonous Plastics - Part Two: Human Effects

10/30/2007 10:01 AM

Yeh thats what I always say!

(WTF does it mean????)

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#7

Re: Poisonous Plastics - Part Two: Human Effects

10/30/2007 9:17 AM

Just for fun, look through the GRAS journal, which lists "all the safe" chemicals to be used for foods or food contact, etc. Your hair will likely be curled before you get too far in your reading! On another topic, the "polycarbonates" (polycarbonate polyols)that we use for making polyurethanes for biodurable polymers ("plastics") for use inside the body do not contain bisphenol A, or other bisphenols. These polycarbonate based polyurethanes are far superior to either the polyester based or polyether based polyurethanes for biodurability.

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#9

Re: Poisonous Plastics - Part Two: Human Effects

10/30/2007 10:03 AM

My wacky opinion (for what its worth) is that many things in the environment we humans created are contributing to our decrease in vitality, nervous system problems and maybe the industrialized countries higher levels of cancer. There are so many things that alone don't affect us much but when you add them all together our health may be impacted. Things like polymers leaching into our food, preservatives in our food, a health care system that relies on chemicals, elevated background RF, loss of ozone layer attenuating affect, metals (the harmful ones) in our water supply, industrial pollutants in the air, etc. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate modern medicine and many consumer conveniences but I do wonder...

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#10

Re: Poisonous Plastics - Part Two: Human Effects

10/30/2007 10:13 AM

it means beer is beautiful in glass bottles, there is a taste difference compared to a can, what's the can lined with?... I used to drink newcastle brown and return the empties way back when they had a 10p deposit and off licences could be bothered, ~1987 The shopkeeper said I was the only one who returned them. newcastle brown bottles have been non-returnable for many years now. But that is the best way to recycle them, re-use and not melt them down. It's almost impossible to turn this ship around to get that mindset back.

this is less of a problem in other countries, I have seen it work in Holland. In the UK it's cool to be wasteful, who decided that?

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#11
In reply to #10

Re: Poisonous Plastics - Part Two: Human Effects

10/30/2007 11:03 AM

PVC a proven cause of cancer bad! PE? PP? PET? most likely not

every tree that decomposes in the woods gives off the same CO2 as one that burned in a fire

biodegradable plastics give off CO2 when they decompose - while PET bottles?

renewable green sources? soy .....corn....

http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/survey/so/2007/RES1017A.htm

http://ipezone.blogspot.com/2007/10/imf-fuels-biofuel-skepticism.html

we have to let the emotion and political and the opportunity to feel good about ourselves and choose to embrace the rational ... have faith ...solutions will come

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#15
In reply to #10

Re: Poisonous Plastics - Part Two: Human Effects

10/30/2007 2:29 PM

Too many words in that statement, what a wasteage. Have you considered just saying, BEER IS BEAUTIFUL?

Does the job doesn't it?

Anyway, you are right, in Holland they do recycle almost all glass and all plastic bottles. Not cheap either if you don't bring them back, you loose sometimes more than the cost of the product. That is whay it works, too expensive not to do it.

Buy a litre bottle of lemonade lets say it costs you 99 cents. The deposit for the bottle is never less than 1 whole euro that is 100 cents! Will you give it back next time you buy a new bottle of lemonade, thought so.

Beer is the same. Buy plastic crate of 24 bottles. Price is 50 cents for the beer per bottle. "5 cents deposit for the bottle and a whopping 5 euros for the crate. I think I will NOT BE USING THOSE TO STAND ON NEXT TIME I AM PAINTING! I want my 5 euro's back thank you very much.

In this country, which I love as I live here by choice, the attitude is completely wrong. Returning of goods or recycling them is seen as only good for charity shops or something. Bring back your old this and that for oxfam. We need to change our attitude.

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#17
In reply to #15

Re: Poisonous Plastics - Part Two: Human Effects

10/30/2007 2:42 PM

It is not only Holland that recycles glass and plastic bottles. The do it in Scandinavia as well, I lived in Norway for 22 years and they have always recycled bottles. It was a Norwegian company (Tomra) that developed the automatic machines to receive them, regardless of size or shape. Thats why these countries do not have a recycling problem like ours, also no smashed bottles everywhere. Why can't we do the same in the UK??? Spencer.

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#18
In reply to #17

Re: Poisonous Plastics - Part Two: Human Effects

10/30/2007 2:59 PM

I think the approach is wrong over here.

They all talk about stupid things here such as obesity. Not important as obesity is a choice you make bar the very very few. Recycling can be your choice as well but nobody wants to do it. So we have lorries driving around at near zero speed, which is the least economical speed of an IC engine, and collect the variety of rubbish. We have 3 come round every 2 weeks. One for glass and canns, One for the normal rubbish and one for card and paper. If we phone up they do another one for whitegoods and large things. Totally ridiculous as we all go to the bloody supermarket every week. Why not take the bloody stuff ourselves? I did that for years and when I came here I was surprised that this was not happening here. This is not reducing anybodies carbon footprint at all, it just levels everybodies to the same high level.

Total and utter stupidity.

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#19
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Re: Poisonous Plastics - Part Two: Human Effects

10/30/2007 3:16 PM

A few years ago california mandated counties reduce landfil usage 25%. Most counties went to the solution you outline. My county took a different approach. all the trash is thrown on a conveyor & manually picked through. The labor is mostly people kicked off the dole ( welfare ). I'm sure it requires the lowest capital expenditure [short term] & provides a few horrible jobs.

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#20
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Re: Poisonous Plastics - Part Two: Human Effects

10/30/2007 3:30 PM

They come of the dole, do a job, and smell even worse afterwards!

Almost not possible.

That solution would not hold up here as we cannot differentiate enough between jobs to make people do this kind of work for the right amount of money.

In other words nobody wants to do it as the dole is providing them with enough anyway and the political dogooders will not have them kicked of the dole. Even if they were kicked of, they would still not be able to have them do this job for the same dogooders will have you know that you cannot pay them what it is worth in real world terms so they all end up earning far too much for society to be able to afford it that way. The waste will cost more than the goods so the whole process will get kicked out.

Seems a catch twentytwo and you are right, it is. Recycling is still the way forward but cheap labour is not going to be cheap enough over here as nobody, me including, will be able to pay much more for the goods, let alone want to.

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#21
In reply to #10

Re: Poisonous Plastics - Part Two: Human Effects

10/30/2007 4:24 PM

Gotta admit... you are spot on...I'll drink beer out of a bottle no prob... bu ta can just makes you look like SP (no offense old chap) And you can carry a bottle by simply sticking an appropriately sized digit into it.

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#22

Re: Poisonous Plastics - Part Two: Human Effects

10/30/2007 5:01 PM

To tell the truth, this is a shall we say a can of horse dung.

Polystyrene monomer is rather nasty to be around, but polystyrene (polymer) is stable, non toxic. But of course the Ames test strongly indicates that styrene monomer is anti carcinogenic. (Look up the evals. Control group 45% cancer, contact group 25% cancer.)

Polycarbonate, yes it is made from Bis-A, but it is not Bisphenol A after the condensation reaction is complete, it is poly carbonate, very stable material.

Of course, you can live your life in a glass bubble, oh my the seal material will kill you. OH welcome to life, there are no risk free issues.

Also, I take it you should never go out side, or for god sakes DRIVE.

Life is risk, live with it.

I am so tired of all the suto science and fear mongering.

If you want to stop something that is a real problem, stop coal fired power plants. Tons of nasty, cancer causers, heavy metals, and a large number of other REAL nasties are dumped into the environment. Plastics used in food containers is about as low a problem as you can think about.

That is my rant.

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#23
In reply to #22

Re: Poisonous Plastics - Part Two: Human Effects

10/31/2007 7:42 AM

In the USA everything can be purchased in glass bottles. At least in Tampa and Brandon everyone has recycle bins for plastic and glass at there curbside.

Branson

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