Updated: 24 Feb 2016
I know just about everyone has experienced a funky taste when drinking out of a plastic bottle and familiar with odors produced by a new car smell. Not only should consumers be aware of health risk associated with the plastics we store foods in, but also the off-gases polymer plastics emit from home furnishings, remodeled homes and during construction.
If you’re not aware, virtually all plastics and polymer products have an absorption effect on the body when consumed or when concentrated in the air we breathe. The two key chemicals from these plastics that leach into stored food, drink containers, or off-gas into our air environment are Phthalates and bisphenol (BPA).
Off-gassing of products occur from many types of plastics and rubber compounds and products our comforts have become dependent upon. A study in 2004 by Silent Spring Institute, Newton, Mass., and Harvard University’s School of Public Health found phthalates in the dust and air of every 120 homes they tested. This is not so hard to believe since homes are furnished, remodeled and built using a large variety of polymer plastics, synthetic fabrics and solvent compounds of organic and bonded polymer resin blends.
As of 2010 the market was still dominated by high-phthalate materials used in everyday consumer products including but not limited to: medical equipment, pharmaceutical pills, computer technology, food containers, cosmetics, vinyl upholstery, floor tiles and carpet, furniture, drapery, children’s toys, drink bottles, feeding containers, cleaning materials and adhesive compounds etc.
The good news is consumer awareness advocates, medical and health groups, including Centers for Disease, Control and Prevention continue to provide multiple epidemiological data points on phthalates absorption including respiratory concerns which has forced many producers to use non-phthalate plasticizers. What is a plasticizer? “Plasticizer is an additive used to make plastic more flexible. Additives are chemical substances which when incorporated into polymer changes physical and bulk properties” (Answers 2016). This is necessary because plastics require softening of the polyvinyl chloride (PVC) molecular chain to apply a desirable structural characteristic for a particular application. This moldable or desired effect is also known as Polymerization of plastic. “This metamorphosis of rubber and plastic is possible by adding identical monomer resins that bond and strengthen a material from its organic petroleum or synthetic materials state” (Plastics 2014). The most widely used polyethylene plastics are within the packaging and plastic bags industries.
However the bad news show us how these chemicals can absorb and store themselves within adipose (fat) tissue. And at some point can act as an endocrine disrupter. “Because phthalate plasticizers are not chemically bound to PVC, they can easily leach and evaporate into food or the atmosphere. Stored products within plastic containers high in BPA and Phthalate concentrate are susceptible to this chemical leaching effect. Especially fatty foods such as milk, butter, and meats are a major source” (Wikipedia 2016). Recall these chemicals can have a negative impact on the endocrine (hormone) systems which are critical to (1) Total body metabolism (2) Growth, and (3) Reproduction. These substances also appear to have a connection to obesity and diabetes, including any other number of ill-health effects.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) have studied plastics leaching effects on the brains of fetuses, babies and children and determine there is some risk. Whereas the chemical industry claims BPA poses no threat to humans. However keep in mind both groups have their own interests at stake. One way to put these opposing views into perspective, consumers simply need to recall a few consumer safety and commission reports on-topic not so long ago.
For instance, in response to a 1998 Consumer Product Safety Commission request, retailers including Kmart, Sears, Target, Toys R Us, and Wal-Mart stopped selling heavily mouthed baby products with phthalates and 7 manufacturers removed the harmful plastic compounds from production. Recall phthalates found in toys are used as a plastic softener in polyvinyl chloride also known as PVC or vinyl to achieve the desired toy attributes.
Some PVC toys may be labeled with a V or #3 inside the chasing arrows triangle usually located on the bottom of a product. Most won’t be labeled at all. Generally, if a toy is a squishy plastic ”like rubber duckies and baby dolls, or if it has highly flexible plastic as a component like the clear pages in a child photo album, and clear plastic purses that some girl’s toys are sold in… or plastic-like “fabric” used on some dolls” you should avoid the purchase or call the manufacturer to ask if the product is made with PVC or phthalates (PBS 2008).
Also the rate of leaching effect of BPA into infant formulae from plastic baby bottles is of concern after heating it. “We found that drinking cold liquids from polycarbonate bottles for just one week increased urinary BPA levels by more than two-thirds. If you heat those bottles, as is the case with baby bottles, we would expect the levels to be considerably higher. This would be of concern since infants may be particularly susceptible to BPAs endocrine-disrupting potential,” said Karin B. Michels, associate professor of epidemiology at HSPH and Harvard Medical School and senior author of the study (Harvard T.H. Chan 2009).
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “show BPA is present in humans at levels found harmful in laboratory studies!” Since BPA and Phthalates absorption and respiratory contact appear to be unavoidable in developed countries there are some preventative measures consumers can take to reduce exposure.
To mitigate health risk of plastics, rubber and sealant polymer materials made with Phthalates and bisphenol (BPA) chemicals, the following preventative and proactive measures will help.
-Baby bottles – Select bottles made from glass or a safe non-polycarbonate plastic.
-Avoid washing plastic dishware with harsh dish soap and hot water.
-Look for PVC-free listings on the labels of soft plastic toys and tethers. Choose wooden toys as another option.
-Do not purchase plastic containers with PC stamp. Or plastics numbered, #3, #7.
-Choose plastics, #1, 2, or #5 in the recycle triangle. Do not heat beverages in plastic containers.
-BPA can leach from metal cans lined with polymers. Buy all baby food products in glass containers. Use canned and bottled plastics food and drinks well before expiration date.
-Choose metal utensils, enamel, or ceramic plates for feeding that are also microwave safe.
-Avoid foods wrapped in plastics, such as meats and cheeses. Buy deli products wrapped in paper. Use stainless steel and glass drinking containers.
-Ensure home ventilation systems are clean and 10% outdoor air intake is circulated into the home or business environment. For example, I have two windows in my house I leave open approximately 1 inch. One window is on the lower and one on the upper floor. This reduces off-gas concentrations of home polymer plastic chemicals off-gassing within home environment.
-Consider buying used as opposed to a new car. Or keep windows down a quarter inch to remove new car smell when parked or driving.
-When using caulk, glues or installing new carpet, floor tile, siding or concrete pad ensure outdoor air circulation is abundant. Then aerate space adequately during cure time. Then get into the practice of the open window concept previously mentioned.
“What Are Polymer Additives?” Answers. Answers Corporation, n.d. Web. 23 Feb. 2016.
Harvard T.H. Chan. “BPA, Chemical Used to Make Plastics, Found to Leach from Polycarbonate Drinking Bottles Into Humans.” Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The President and Fellows of Harvard College, 21 May 2009. Web. 21 Feb. 2016.
PBS. “Finding Non-Toxic Toys.” PBS. JumpStart Productions, 21 Mar. 2008. Web. 21 Feb. 2016.
“Plastics” Nobelprize.org. Nobel Media AB 2014. Web. 21 Feb 2016.
Marc T. Woodard, MBA, BS Exercise Science, ARNG, CPT, RET. 2016 Copyright. All rights reserved, Mirror Athlete Inc., www.mirrorathlete.org, Sign up for your Free eNewsletter.