The Dangers of Plastic
When you reach for your favorite water bottle, you may be getting more than you think. Recently scientists have found a disturbing link between plastics - the same we use to drink from, eat from, cook and store food with - and an assortment of adverse health effects. Most notable among these effects are early puberty, declining fertility rates, hyperactivity, obesity, and breast and prostate cancer. Found in many types of plastics, the effects are caused by chemicals called "endocrine disruptors."
Many types of endocrine disruptors exist, but the main concern with plastics is one called bisphenol A, more commonly known as BPA. Perhaps the biggest problem with BPA is its prevalence, each year over 6 BILLION pounds of BPA are produced, making it one of the highest volume chemicals produced worldwide.
BPA is found in: Cups and Bottles, Most Food and Beverage Can Liners, Bottle Caps, Plastic Utensils, Plastic Food Containers, Toys, Dental Sealants, Water Pipes, Paper Towels, Paper Food Containers
How They Hurt Us
Plastics with BPA can actually leach the chemical into food and water whenever they are in contact, and especially after prolonged contact, when they used repeatedly, and when they are heated. When this happens, and when BPA is consequently ingested, the person unknowingly ingesting the chemicals is introducing a form of foreign estrogen (xenoestrogen) into the body. It doesn't take much to imagine that too much of this substance can upset hormonal balance, and this imbalance can impair fertility, disrupt pregnancy, and lead to the growth of reproductive tumors. It can even affect the unborn baby and breast milk of the mother. Infants and small children take in even more BPA than adults, because they tend to put plastics in their mouths more often and can't clear the chemical from their system as quickly as adults can.
Now scientists believe early childhood exposure to BPA may be linked to:
- Increased Breast Development
- Prolonged Menstrual Cycles
- Chromosomal Abnormalities in Eggs
- Decreased Testosterone Levels
- Fewer, Less Motile Sperm
- More Abnormal Sperm
- Increased Prostate Size
- Increased Weight
- Increased Aggressiveness
- Impaired Motor Activity
- Anxious Behavior
- Impaired Learning
With all the risk it entails, you may wonder why BPA is still being used on the market today. Recently the Canadian government declared BPA toxic, triggering a ban on the use of BPA in baby bottles, but the US still maintains that there is not enough research to support a ban. In response, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a warning against the US government''s false reassurance to the public by downplaying risks, particularly for infants and pregnant women. As a representative for the Natural Resources Defense Council said bluntly, "BPA should be considered a hazard to human development and reproduction with clear evidence of adverse effects."
In an attempt to understand why a ban on BPA has yet to take place, Frederick vom Saal, doctor of neurobiology, offers this insight:"No industry-funded studies have reported significant effects of low doses of BPA, although more than 90 percent of government-funded studies have reported significant effects."
He refers to risk assessment reports, many of which were funded by the American Plastics Council, which dismiss the dangers to humans due to some incongruities between human use and animal studies.
Until the US government places a ban on the use of BPA, Americans must do their best to avoid BPA on their own. Practice the following tips help reduce exposure for you and your family:
- Avoid Canned Foods: it may seem odd, but cans and canned foods and beverages are the highest contributor of BPA in our diets.
- Use Powdered Formula Instead of Liquid: Powdered formula has less exposure to BPA in the can lining. Better yet, breastfeed.
- Look for Plastic Wrap Labeled "BPA Free": unfortunately, companies are not yet required to tell you if they use BPA, but companies that don't are proud to let you know.
- If You Must Use a Microwave, Use Glass and Ceramic Containers: even plastic-ware labeled "microwave safe" can contain BPA, and the warmer it becomes, the more chemicals leach into your food.
- Look for BPA Free Plastic Ware for Your Baby and Small Children: especially bottles and pacifiers.
- Avoid Bottled Water: besides reducing it your chemical exposure, it reduces waste!
- Use Wooden or Metal Utensils for Cooking, also use wooden instead of plastic cutting boards.
- Use Plastic Containers labeled "BPA Free" for your leftovers - or use glass containers.
- Recycle: BPA leaches from plastic left in landfills and pollutes our water.