The Danger of Plastics
Somebody told me that since she had read my blog last week, she had switched from water to juice.
Her favorite brand of juices was offering pre-packaged “freshly squeezed” juices, with tantalizing names and elaborate recipes mixing for example mango juice and red chili pepper.
To me, it looked like another plastic bottle, leaking the very same chemicals than if filled with water, with an addition of 22grams of sugar.
On most plastic containers there is a triangle with a number. The number in the triangle refers to what chemicals are used to manufacture the plastic. There are seven numbers in this rating system, and all plastics are not equally dangerous.
1 – Polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE)
Once of the worst offenders, because it may leach antimony trioxide and it is commonly used in containers for soft drinks, juice, water, beer, mouthwash, peanut butter, salad dressing, detergent and cleaner. A study by a group of geochemists compared concentrations of antimony in water bottled in PET with concentrations in pristine ground water and in commercially bottled water both in polypropylene and glass. They concluded that antimony is leaching from PET. While the ground water contained approximately 2 parts per trillion (ppt) of antimony, commercially bottled water averaged 160 ppt. Samples left in bottles up to six months had levels as high as 556 ppt.
(Available online at: http://www.rsc.org/publishing/journals/EM/article.asp?doi=b517844b)
Workers exposed to antimony trioxide for long periods of time have exhibited respiratory and skin irritation; among female workers, increased incidence of menstrual problems and miscarriage; their children exhibited slower development in the first twelve months of life. The longer a liquid is left in such a container the greater the potential for release of antimony into the liquid.
2- High density polyethylene (HDPE)
Used in opaque milk, water, and juice containers, bleach, detergent and shampoo bottles, garbage bags, yogurt and margarine tubs, cereal box liners. Considered a ‘safer’ plastic. The research on risks associated with this type of plastic is still ongoing.
3- Polyvinyl chloride (V or Vinyl or PVC)
PVC is known to contain phthalates, a suspected carcinogen. Used in toys, clear food and non-food packaging (e.g., cling wrap), some squeeze bottles, shampoo bottles, cooking oil and peanut butter jars, detergent and window cleaner bottles, shower curtains, medical tubing, and numerous construction products (e.g., pipes, siding).
PVC has been described as one of the most hazardous consumer products ever created. It leaches di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) or butyl benzyl phthalate (BBzP), depending on which is used as the plasticizer or softener (usually DEHP). DEHP and BBzP are endocrine disruptors mimicking the female hormone estrogen; have been strongly linked to asthma and allergic symptoms in children; may cause certain types of cancer; linked to negative effects on the liver, kidney, spleen, bone formation and body weight. Since 1999, the European Union has banned the use of DEHP, BBzP and four other phthalates as softeners in plastic toys that may be placed in the mouth of children under three years old.
4- Low-density polyethylene (LDPE)
Used in grocery store, dry cleaning, bread and frozen food bags, most plastic wraps, squeezable bottles (like honey, mustard). Considered a ‘safer’ plastic. The research on risks associated with this type of plastic is ongoing.
5- Polypropylene (PP)
Used in ketchup bottles, yogurt and margarine tubs, medicine and syrup bottles, straws, Rubbermaid and other opaque plastic containers, including baby bottles. Considered a ‘safer’ plastic. The research on risks associated with this type of plastic is ongoing.
6- Polystyrene (PS)
PS contains styrene, which is a known carcinogen. Used in Styrofoam containers, egg cartons, disposable cups and bowls, take-out food containers, plastic cutlery, compact disc cases. It leaches styrene, which is an endocrine disruptor mimicking the female hormone estrogen, and thus has the potential to cause reproductive and developmental problems; long-term exposure by workers has shown brain and nervous system effects; adverse effects on red blood cells, liver, kidneys and stomach in animal studies. Also present in secondhand cigarette smoke, ‘off gassing’ of building materials, car exhaust and possibly drinking water. Styrene migrates significantly from polystyrene containers into the container’s contents when oily foods are heated in such containers.
This is a catchall category that includes anything that does not fit in the other six categories. As such, one must be careful in interpreting this category because it includes polycarbonate – a dangerous plastic – but it also includes the new, safer, biodegradable bio-based plastics made from renewable resources such as corn and potato starch, and sugar cane.
Polycarbonate is used in many plastic baby bottles, clear plastic ‘sippy’ cups, sports water bottles, three and five gallon large water storage containers, metal food can liners, some juice and ketchup containers, compact discs, cell phones, computers.
Polycarbonate leaches Bisphenol A, which is a known hormone disruptor, and numerous studies have indicated a wide array of possible adverse effects from low-level exposure to Bisphenol A: chromosome damage in female ovaries, decreased sperm production in males, early onset of puberty, various behavioral changes, altered immune function, and sex reversal in frogs.