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What Plastics Do to Your Body

What Plastics Do to Your Body

News of possible health threats associated with plastic bothered Jeanne Haegele of Chicago so much that she has quit using plastic. The 28-year-old marketing coordinator chronicles her efforts online at “Plastic is absolutely everywhere–our food is packaged in it, our clothes are often made out of it, and even baby toys are made of plastic,” Haegele says. “It was scary that something that was such a big part of my life might be dangerous.”

Scientists are mostly worried about bisphenol-A or BPA. “It’s an endocrine disruptor and in numerous animal studies it’s been linked to cancer, infertility, obesity and early puberty,” says Anila Jacob, M.D., M.P.H., a senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group, a non-profit research and advocacy organization in Washington, D.C. “The CDC has found this chemical in 93 percent of people they have tested,” she says.

BPA is a chemical used to make polycarbonate plastic or items marked with the number 7 on the bottom. Some plastic dishes, cups, reusable water bottles and baby bottles are made out of polycarbonate. Heating foods in polycarbonate plastic increases the amount of BPA that leaches into food, Jacob says. Frances Beinecke, president of the National Resources Defense Council, an environmental action group, worries about BPA’s possible role in breast cancer. Beinecke, a breast cancer survivor, says BPA is a synthetic form of estrogen, and doctors know estrogen feeds breast cancer. “It ramps up cell division in pre-cancerous cells and it can prompt tumors to metastasize,” she says. “In animal studies, BPA has been found to cause the early onset of puberty and stimulate mammary gland development in females. The estrogen-like properties in BPA are so strong that even when male rodents were exposed to it, they had an increased risk of mammary tumors.” The studies done to date have all been on animals, Jacob says, because it’s difficult to study in humans as we have already been exposed via multiple routes. “We think the animal data is convincing enough that it warrants concern,” Jacob says.

BPA also is used to line the inside of metal food and soda cans and can leach from the can liner into the food. Acidic foods like tomato sauces and soda absorb more BPA. Other plastic containers–like those made with polyvinyl chloride or PVC and marked with the number 3 concern scientists for health and environmental reasons. PVC contains phthalates, softeners need to make the plastic bend and they have been found to interfere with hormonal development. The production of and burning of PVC plastic releases dioxin, a known carcinogen, into the atmosphere.

All food plastic wraps used to be made with PVC, but many large name brands have quit using PVC. However, the cling wrap used for commercial purposes, such as the meat department of your grocery store, often contain phthalates. Gina Solomon, M.D., M.P.H., a senior scientist with the NRDC, suggests checking the date when you buy food wrapped in cling wrap. Buying something recently wrapped is your safest bet, she says.

For its part, the FDA agrees that substances used to make plastics can leach into food. But the agency says it has studied them and found “the levels to be well within the margin of safety based on information available to the agency.”

Safer Plastics

#1 PETE or PET
(polyethylene terephthalate)–used for most clear beverage bottles, such as 2-liter soda, cooking oil bottles and peanut butter jars. One of the most commonly recycled plastics on the planet.

#2 HDPE (high-density polyethylene)–used to make most milk jugs.

#4 LDPE (low-density polyethylene)–used in food storage bags, some cling wraps and some squeeze bottles.

#5 PP (polypropylene)–used in opaque, hard containers, including some baby bottles and some cups and bowls. Drinking straws and yogurt containers are sometimes made with this.

Avoid These

#3 PVC (polyvinyl chloride)–used in commercial plastic wraps and salad dressing bottles.

#6 PS (polystyrene)–used in Styrofoam cups, meat trays and “clam-shell”-type containers.

#7 Other (these contain any plastic other than those used in #1-6. Most are polycarbonate which contain BPA)–used in some water bottles, Nalgene water bottles, some baby bottles, and some metal can linings.

Easy Tips
Using plastic water bottles? Go for a metal or stainless steel container instead.
Using a plastic spatula? Try using a wooden spoon instead.
Using Tupperware? Try pyrex glass containers that go straight from the fridge to the oven.
Buying ready-to-drink juices? Frozen concentrate stores longer and is typically packaged in paper.
Using plastic cutting boards? How about a bamboo cutting board?
Using a plastic lunch box? A stainless steel laptop lunchbox provides a sturdy, elegant alternative.

For more information or to subscribe at the introductory price of $10 a year, go to Positively Green magazine launched in 2008 as a quarterly women’s magazine that covers every aspect of green from eco-friendly vacations to green fashion to green health. With articles that don’t just explain the problems, they outline solutions for busy people who want to make the change but don’t have the time to research solutions.

Read more: Health, Health & Safety, , , , , , , , , ,

By Martha Miller Johnson, Positively Green

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Kelly Magill

Kelly Magill is founder and publisher of Positively Green, a quarterly women's magazine that covers every aspect of green from eco-friendly vacations to green fashion to green health.


+ add your own
7:17AM PDT on Aug 25, 2012

I've always hated plastic

1:35PM PDT on Aug 5, 2012

i try not to use any plastic - i'm allergic to many; rings on under ware, cheap reading glasses,etc.
not to mention the BPAs that we need to avoid!
Let's bring back the hemp industry, use bamboo products and "vegetable plastics", to avoid petrol based and dangerous plastics!

3:41AM PDT on Jun 10, 2011

After reading this information, even though konteyner we have already dealt with
getting rid of most the plastic in our lives. Yet, I just thought about
something else. The fact that we have children giving birth to children.
These kabin cemicials mess with a young girls hormone and they become
physically a adult with hormones racing out of control and what does it
do to prefabrik villa our young boys.

3:35AM PDT on Jun 10, 2011

Now this is very interesting, impressive and never thought of. In simple words well done for providing creative information.
hebo kabin

2:29PM PST on Dec 8, 2010 ceramic ok? I'm rethinking my cabinet full of one dollar plastic bowls, cups, plates, containers, and everything I've collected in plastic.

2:14PM PDT on Oct 17, 2010

I found all this out 14 years ago, and got rid of all the plastic containers etc in out cupboards, and now only use ceramic, glass or wood bowls etc, and only stainless steel , cos never cook in aluminium as that leaches into the food and creats havoc with the nervous system affecting mental instability( to put it mildly).

5:35AM PDT on Jun 24, 2010

thanks for the great info

11:34AM PST on Mar 12, 2010

Hi Sharon,
Thanks for the info.
When I do buy milk I buy certified organic (no hormones, no antibiotics) lactose free milk...whew!...but I often use rice milk or hemp milk (can't have soy). Should I use
glass for these?

10:17AM PST on Mar 12, 2010

Nancilee, the biggest danger from a health perspective (never mind the environmental damage!) is when heated substance is poured into plastic. If your milk is pasteurized it would fall into this category. We don't really need milk anyway. Just being what it is even without additives it has a lot of animal hormones in it (needed for calf growth) and most people will feel better without it.

9:07AM PST on Mar 12, 2010

Thank you for this very informative article. And thanks to all who have commented... much good advice and info. I am old enough to remember the "tail end" of using glass fridge containers, glass milk bottles and wax paper instead of plastic cling wrap... And I have decided to "go back in time", no more plastics! I cannot get milk in glass containers, but I can transfer it to glass at home. I use only natural cleaners... I am going to check which plastics they are in.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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