The Dangers of Plastic

Everyone remembers the famous line in The Graduate, when Mr. McGuire tells young Dustin Hoffman that the future is in plastics. Well, it seems like at least one part of the future, our health, could literally be in plastics. The Food and Drug Administration announced today that it backs a study that links bisphenol A (BPA) to health complications such as heart disease and diabetes in humans. The common plastic additive is a hormone disrupter that can be found in almost everybody and it poses the most risk to pregnant women and babies. In a study of 1,455 Americans published online today in the Journal of the American Medical Association, adults with the highest BPA levels were more likely to have cardiovascular problems, diabetes and signs of stress in their liver.

The chemical, used in everything from polycarbonate plastic bottles to the linings of metal cans, is one of the highest production-volume chemicals in the world. Two million tons are produced annually, with demand growing up at up to 10% each year. Scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have detected it in the urine of 93% of Americans tested. Polycarbonate plastics are rigid and translucent, and are usually marked with a recycling label #7.

Concern about BPA has spread in the past year, pressuring major retailers and manufacturers to take BPA off the shelves. Wal-Mart and Toys R Us/Babies R Us have begun to phase out products that contain BPA and most baby bottle-makers now offer BPA-free alternatives. PBM Products, which makes baby formula for major retailers is also working to remove BPA from its metal formula cans.

In USA Today, John Peterson Myers, a BPA expert, says that BPA is so ubiquitous--used in everything from "carbonless" paper receipts to water pipes--that consumers cannot completely avoid it. Myers believes that having the industry stop using the chemical is the only way to protect vulnerable children.

In the meantime, Enviroblog offers the following tips to consumers:

  • When possible, and especially if you’re pregnant and when feeding a young child, limit the amount of canned food in your diet.
  • Avoid using old or scratched polycarbonate bottles. If you're in the market for a new water bottle, look for stainless steel water bottles that do not have a plastic liner.
  • Don't use plastic containers to heat food in the microwave. Opt for ceramic, glass, or other microwavable dishware.
  • Soft or cloudy-colored plastic does not contain BPA.
  • If you're formula feeding your infant, consider using powdered formulas packaged in non-steel cans. Also, choose baby bottles made from glass or plastics that don't leach BPA (like polypropylene or polyethylene).