- Kitty Pityer
Plastic Can Be Hazardous to Your Health
Have you ever had the experience of storing your leftover spaghetti sauce in a plastic container only to discover the sauce had permanently stained it? That’s because plastic is permeable and molecules of spaghetti sauce are able to be absorbed by the plastic. What you may not have realized is that the permeability works both ways and the chemicals and additives used to create your plastic container were able to take up residence in your spaghetti sauce.
Plastic is made from mixtures of thousands of chemicals. Most of those chemicals have not been tested to ensure they are safe for human use and consumption. These chemicals can easily leach from a plastic container into the food or liquid it holds. They are not something you want to be ingesting along with your leftovers. The longer a food or liquid is exposed to plastic, the more likely leaching is to take place. This is especially true if the plastic is exposed to warm temperatures such as plastic water bottles sitting in a hot car or placing hot food into a plastic storage container. It is also more likely if the plastic container is old, scratched or otherwise damaged.
When you microwave food in plastic, the toxic chemicals in the food packaging are easily transferred to your food. There is no such thing as “microwave safe” plastic. All that label means is that the plastic does not contain chemicals that will explode in your microwave. It does not mean that food microwaved in plastic is safe to eat.
Dishwashers are a handy modern convenience, but placing plastic in the dishwater drenches everything in that load with a shower of chemicals that are released by the hot water and soap. If you have plastic items that you continue to use, it is always better to wash them by hand.
Chemical compounds called plasticizers are often added to plastic products. Two of the better-known additives used in plastic are Bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates. BPA was first used as a hormone in cattle and poultry and as an estrogen replacement for women. It is added to plastic to harden it. It can be found in plastic water bottles, storage containers, thermal paper receipts and the lining of food cans and aluminum cans. BPA has been in the news as consumers have become alarmed and demanded that manufacturers remove it from their products. Many companies have responded by replacing BPA with another member of the bisphenol family. There is no evidence that the replacements are any safer than BPA.
Phthalates are added to keep plastic flexible and are used in plastic food and beverage containers, plastic wrap, vinyl, medical devices like tubing, children’s toys and as a lubricant in personal care products. It is tricky to determine if phthalates have been added to a product because you will rarely find the word listed on the label. It is masked as “fragrance” or a three- or four-letter acronym which identifies its chemical structure such as BBP or DEP.
Both of these petroleum-derived chemicals are known to be endocrine disruptors and have been linked with early puberty in girls, demasculinization in boys, obesity, diabetes, cancer and behavioral issues. The majority of Americans have high levels of BPA metabolites and phthalates in their urine.
Are you thinking that it might be time to examine your cabinets and do an inventory of the plastic in your home? Making the switch is as easy as swapping out your plastic for glass or stainless-steel containers. Not only are these items safely reusable for a long time, but unlike plastic which eventually ends up in the landfill or environment, both glass and stainless steel can be effectively recycled into new products when they have reached the end of their useful life.