Concerns about toxicity of plastics have gained a great deal of steam over the past few years.
In a recent study, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found traces of 212 environmental chemicals in humans. Although the effects of these chemicals are not fully understood, the results of the survey raise questions about whether such chemicals contribute to a wide range of diseases and behavioral disorders. Two of the more commonly found chemicals in humans are bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates.
Both of these chemicals are found in plastic products throughout our homes. The major concern is that the chemicals can leach out of these products into our food and beverages. Both of these chemicals act on the delicate endocrine system, the system responsible for regulating many bodily functions and aspects of development.
BPA was invented in 1891 and is used to harden plastic. Today, 6 billion pounds of BPA are produced yearly worldwide. BPA functions as a synthetic estrogen and is found in the urine of over 90 percent of Americans. It has been associated with hyperactivity, learning disabilities, early puberty, breast tumors, enlarged prostate, increased weight and aggression.
Phthalates are used to soften plastics and can affect the reproductive system. They have been linked to decreased sperm counts, breast cancer, feminization in men, and multiple genital abnormalities. They have also been associated with decreased birth weight, asthma, eczema and wheezing.
These chemicals fall under the control of the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976. The president and Congress have recently led charges to further study which chemicals might be dangerous and at what dose. However, these studies might not be completed for several years. Until then, here are some things you can do to decrease exposure to potentially harmful chemicals
■ Never microwave in plastic containers or plastic cling wrap. Use glass or paper based products.
■ Check all plastic ware for the "dishwasher safe" logo. If it doesn't have it, it needs to stay out of the dishwasher. The combination of heat and abrasive cleaning causes more leaching of chemicals.
■ Check your plastic products for the "BPA/phthalate-free logo." This is especially important for pregnant women or young children. If there is no label, then call the company that makes the product. They must tell you if the chemicals are in their product.
■ Check the numbers in the recycle symbol on the bottom of plastic containers that indicate what kind of plastic it is. The 3, 6, and 7 types are associated with increased chemical exposures and should not come in contact with food or beverage.
■ Plastics with the number 1, which includes most soda and water bottles, should only be used once. Reuse will result in increased risk and exposure.
■ Any plastic that is scratched should be thrown away, recycled, or used for something other than food.