In the past, plastic was thought of as an inert substance. Now we know that plastic chemicals can and do leach from plastic containers, thereby contaminating the foods and beverages they hold.
Among the most hazardous of these chemicals known to date are bisphenol-A (BPA) and phthalates, both of which mimic hormones in your body. Even tiny concentrations can cause problems, and you’re likely being exposed from a wide variety of sources.
Aside from canned goods, they’re found in reusable food containers, plastic wraps, water bottles, personal care products—you name it. In response to consumer demand for BPA-free products, many manufacturers have switched to using a different chemical called bisphenol-S (BPS).
Alas, BPS appears to be just as toxic, if not more so, than BPA… A Mother Jones report1 published earlier this year accused the plastics industry with using a tobacco-style campaign to bury findings linking their products with health problems. More recently, Scientific American2 noted that:
“BPS was a favored replacement because it was thought to be more resistant to leaching. If people consumed less of the chemical, the idea went, it would not cause any or only minimal harm.
Yet BPS is getting out. Nearly 81 percent of Americans have detectable levels of BPS in their urine. And once it enters the body it can affect cells in ways that parallel BPA.”
Health Hazards of BPA
BPA, which mimics the hormone estrogen, has been linked to a number of health concerns, including:
|Structural damage to your brain||Changes in gender-specific behavior, and abnormal sexual behavior|
|Hyperactivity, increased aggressiveness, and impaired learning||Early puberty, stimulation of mammary gland development, disrupted reproductive cycles, ovarian dysfunction, and infertility3|
|Increased fat formation and risk of obesity||Stimulation of prostate cancer cells|
|Altered immune function||Increased prostate size and decreased sperm production|
Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals Can Affect Sexual Development and Fertility
Ovarian toxicity appears to be a particularly strong feature of BPA. Harvard researchers have found that higher BPA levels in women are linked to a reduced number of fertile eggs. According to the New York Times:4
“The accumulating research fuels rising concern among scientists that childhood exposure to BPA may well contribute to female infertility, and that adult exposure may result in a shorter reproductive life span.
‘I think most scientists working today agree that BPA is an ovarian toxicant,’ Dr. Flaws said. A review of research into BPA, published this summer in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives,5 noted that ovarian toxicity is among the most consistent and strongest effects found ‘in both animal models and in women.’”
Meanwhile, in Sweden, a rise in the number of boys born with deformed penises—a condition known as hypospadias—has researchers “stumped.” A notable increase appears in children born after 1990, nearly doubling compared to previous decades.6
Hypospadias is a birth defect in which the opening of the urethra is on the underside of the penis instead of at the end, which affects both urination and sexual function. Scientists are speculating whether endocrine disrupting chemicals such as BPA and phthalates may be at fault.
Researchers have also pointed out links between phthalates and infertility. A report in Chemical and Engineering News7 discusses recent findings8suggesting a mechanism of action for this link. The researchers found that exposure to phthalates correlate with a biomarker for oxidative damage to DNA.
While this held true in both men and women, the effect was stronger in women. Women also had higher urine concentrations of all but one phthalate metabolite. Cosmetics are suspected of being the chief culprit, accounting for the different levels in men and women.
BPS Appears to Be Just as Harmful as BPA
As mentioned, many manufacturers are simply switching BPA for BPS, which allows them to slap the much-sought after “BPA-free” label on their wares. But BPS, it turns out, appears to have many of the same concerns as BPA.
Last year, researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch discovered that even minute concentrations—less than one part per trillion—of BPS can disrupt cellular functioning. Metabolic disorders like obesity, diabetes, and even cancer, are potential ramifications of such disruptions.
Basically, while manufacturers are not lying by stating their products are “BPA-free,” they’re not necessarily telling the whole truth either. Many have simply traded one endocrine-disrupting chemical for another, and health-conscious consumers may be lulled into a false sense of security by the BPA-free label. According to the featured article:9
“A 2011 study published in Environmental Health Perspectives10 found that almost all of the 455 commercially available plastics that were tested leached estrogenic chemicals.
This study lead to a bitter legal battle between Eastman Chemical Co. and the study’s author, George Bittner, professor of neurobiology at The University of Texas at Austin and founder of CertiChem and PlastiPure, two companies designed to test and discover nonestrogenic plastics.
Bittner claimed in the peer-reviewed report that Eastman’s product Tritan, marketed to be completely free of estrogenic leaching, showed such activity.
Eastman claimed otherwise and filed a suit. A federal jury ruled in favor of the latter, saying Bittner’s testing methods were inadequate because the tests were done in vitro—in a petri dish rather than in vivo, in a live animal.”
Animal Tests Show BPS Affects Brain and Heart Function
Having learned their lesson, researchers are now focusing their investigations on live animal testing,11 and results show BPS is hardly a healthier alternative to BPA:
- Researchers studying the effects of BPS on zebra fish embryos found that fish exposed to BPS in similar concentrations as that found in the water of a nearby river experienced explosive neuronal growth, which led to hyperactive and erratic behavior as the fish grew. Fish embryos exposed to BPS had a 170 percent increase in neuronal growth; while those exposed to BPA had a 240 percent increase.
- Another study using rats found that exposure to either BPA or BPS caused heart arrhythmia in the females. Here, the dose used was similar to concentrations found in humans. The researchers discovered that BPS blocked an estrogen receptor found only in the females, which disrupted the calcium channels. This is also a common cause of heart arrhythmia in humans.
The root of the problem goes back to a lack of regulation—there’s no proper agency testing for toxicity before a chemical is allowed on the market. Banning BPS will not solve this problem, as there are many types of bisphenols, and simply switching from one to another is nothing but a game of toxic musical chairs. At present, you may be paying more for a “BPA-free” product that is no safer than the old BPA-containing variety… You’re also exposed to a number of other chemicals courtesy of food and beverage containers,12 most of which have no warning labels at all.
Another chemical high on the list of concern is styrene, found in Styrofoam cups. According to scientists with the National Research Council, styrene can be “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.”13 Heat and prolonged storage increases the leaching of most if not all of these plastic chemicals from their respective plastic containers, and this may be of particular concern when it comes to Styrofoam, as foam cups are almost exclusively used for hot drinks.
Phthalates: Industrial Strength Gender-Benders
Then of course there are the phthalates, which are used as plasticizers in everything from vinyl flooring to detergents and toys. This hormone disrupter can also be found in soaps, shampoos, and cosmetics of all kinds. They’re even used as food additives!14 Research has linked phthalates with the feminization of males of all species. These chemicals have disrupted the endocrine systems of wildlife, causing testicular cancer, genital deformations, low sperm counts, and infertility in polar bears, deer, whales, and otters, just to name a few. Scientists believe phthalates are responsible for a similar pattern in humans as well. As you can see, the effects of phthalate exposure, listed below, are very similar to that of bisphenols (BPA and BPS), which isn’t surprising considering they all affect your endocrine system and sex hormones:
|Disturbed lactation||“Decreased dysgenesis syndrome”: A syndrome involving cryptorchidism (undescended testicles), hypospadias, and oligospermia (low sperm count)|
|Interference with sexual differentiation in utero||Enlarged prostate glands|
|Impaired ovulatory cycles and polycystic ovary disease (PCOS)||Numerous hormonal disruptions|
|Early or delayed puberty||Breast cancer, uterine fibroids, and testicular cancer|
Chemical Industry Is Reusing the Tobacco Industry’s Playbook…
The Democracy Now video above reveals how the chemical industry uses the same playbook that the tobacco industry became notorious for. The only difference is that they have not been exposed yet, whereas the tobacco industry finally had to admit to the health hazards of its products. For example, many of the studies that found no adverse health effects of BPA were funded by the chemical industry, and as noted in the video, there’s a hidden network here; industry-funded studies get published in certain journals that in many cases have links to the tobacco industry. The chemical industry has also relied on scientists that previously helped discredit the science linking smoking and second-hand smoke exposure to disease.
So, not only has the chemical industry borrowed the tobacco industry’s strategies to keep their products on the market, they’re also relying on the tobacco industry’s “experts” to back up their safety claims. It is now a historical fact that the tobacco industry purposely buried evidence linking tobacco smoking to health problems such as lung cancer, and the chemical industry is now doing the exact same thing; using the same tactics and experts as the tobacco industry once relied on.
As an example, one chemical in particular became the focus of Mariah Blake’s investigation for Mother Jones: Tritan, made by Eastman Chemical. According to Blake, a number of independent scientists have tested this product, and found it has estrogenic activity—in fact, it is MORE estrogenic than polycarbonate, a BPA-containing plastic. Internal documents released during the course of a lawsuit against Eastman Chemical reveals that the company suppressed evidence showing that Tritan is in fact estrogenic. Shocking but true, there are about 80,000 chemicals used in various products sold in the US, and only a tiny fraction of them have undergone safety testing.
And, because of lack of regulation, when a chemical like BPA is taken out of production, the industry simply replaces it with another untested chemical… It’s like a never-ending vicious circle where as soon as one chemical is found to be hazardous, another takes its place and is allowed to wreak havoc for decades until someone realizes the hazard that one poses… As crazy as it sounds, the chemical industry is a largely unregulated field, and as such it poses a tremendous danger to human health. Leaked minutes from a 2009 meeting of the BPA Joint Trade Association are also revealing.
Members of this association include the American Chemical Council, the American Chemistry Council, Coca-Cola, Del Monte, and many others. In this meeting, they explored a variety of messaging strategies, including what they called “fear tactics.” An example of a fear tactic would be to use statements like “Do you want to have access to baby food anymore?” The attendees agreed that “the holy grail spokesperson” would be “a pregnant young mother who would be willing to speak around the country about the benefits of BPA.” As noted by Mariah Blake, one of the most disturbing aspects of the chemical industry’s efforts to hide hazardous effects is that they purposely target those who are the mostvulnerable to damage, such as young children and pregnant women.
Tips to Reduce Your Exposure to Endocrine Disrupting Plastic Chemicals
To avoid any number of chemical toxins leaching into your food and beverages, choose glass over plastic, especially when it comes to products that will come into contact with food or beverages, or those intended for pregnant women, infants, and children. This applies to canned goods as well, which are a major source of BPA, so whenever you can, choose jarred goods over canned goods, or opt for fresh whole foods instead. I also recommend avoiding plastic teething toys for your little ones. Considering their pervasiveness, it may be next to impossible to avoid all sources of exposure to BPA, BPS, phthalates, and similar toxins, but you can certainly reduce your exposure dramatically by making more informed choices. To limit your exposure, please consider the following suggestions:
|Only use glass baby bottles and dishes for your baby|
|Get rid of your plastic dishes and cups, and replace them with glass varieties|
|Give your baby natural fabric toys instead of plastic ones|
|Store your food and beverages in glass containers|
|If you choose to use a microwave, microwave food in glass containers, not plastic|
|Use glass, ceramic, or stainless steel travel coffee mugs rather than plastic or Styrofoam coffee cups|
|Avoid using plastic wrap (and never microwave anything covered in it)|
|If you opt to use plastic kitchenware, at least get rid of the older, scratched-up varieties, avoid putting them in the dishwasher, and don’t wash them with harsh detergents, as these things can cause more chemicals to leach into your food|
|Avoid using bottled water; filter your own using a reverse osmosis filter instead|
|Before allowing a dental sealant to be applied to your, or your children’s, teeth, ask your dentist to verify that it does not contain BPA|