It's tough to go through a day without being exposed to plastic. It's in food containers, water bottles, food wraps, disposable cutlery, and a variety of other common items. Plastic can be a health concern when it leaches chemicals into water or food. The infamous chemical that has been mentioned countless times in the media is BPA (bisphenol A).
Compounds like BPA and phthalates mimic hormones (e.g., estrogens) and act as endocrine disruptors. They potentially have negative effects on health issues ranging from cancer to sexual behavior. As a result, Canada and the EU have banned BPA use in baby bottles, and Canada has declared BPA to be toxic to the environment and human health. A number of U.S. states are considering banning BPA, as well.
BPA-free plastic products are available for consumers, who can feel safer for buying plastics that aren't associated with health risks. However, an upcoming article in Environmental Health Perspectives reveals that it isn't wise to unquestionably trust the safety of BPA-free products either.
Chun Yang and her coworkers tested over 450 plastic products for estrogenic activity by incubating liquid extracts from plastics with MCF-7 human breast cancer cells. When the cells are exposed to estrogenic chemicals, they proliferate. Yang and her coauthors found estrogenic activity in roughly 95 percent of samples from plastic products that had been treated to real-life conditions (dishwasher, microwave, etc.), including most of the BPA-free products. On a positive note, the researchers suggest that simply reformulating the plastics would eliminate estrogenic activities.
Yang's results highlight the importance of taking another look at the safety of plastic products. We shouldn't just be concerned with buzz words that are associated with health risks. Instead, we should encourage scientists and government agencies to thoroughly examine consumer products from multiple angles.
- Environmental Health Perspectives: Most Plastic Products Release Estrogenic Chemicals: A Potential Health Problem That Can Be Solved
- Global Challenges 2010: BPA and food safety
- AAAS: In Assessing Controversial Chemicals, Experts Find Little Certainty