How “Safe” are BPA-free plastics? 1

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Most Plastics Have Hormone Disruptors

The initial motivation to write a blog post about plastics and health effects was because of this recent article regarding the harmful chemicals in food packaging.:

“Potential cellular changes caused by [packaging] with the capacity to disrupt hormones, are not even being considered in routine toxicology analysis…this casts serious doubts on the adequacy of chemical regulatory procedures…Whereas the science for some of these substances is being debated and policy makers struggle to satisfy the needs of stakeholders, consumers remain exposed to these chemicals daily, mostly unknowingly,”

What the above quote is stating is that the chemicals in plastics (even “BPA-free”) can cause hormonal imbalances, unfortunately little is being done to address the serious health consequences from these ubiquitous man-made convenience products.   The article calls to task the chemical industry to ensure safety of these products.

In addition, there has been quite a bit in the media lately regarding plastic chemicals and health concerns.  A must-read  Mother Jones’ expose was published 2 weeks ago that discussed this very issue regarding plastic safety. Several days after the Mother Jones’ article NPR OnPoint did a segment with the MJ article author as a guest.  I recommend this OnPoiont as an hour that is worthy of your time.

Evidence Of Harm

The plastics contain xenoestrogens that act as hormones in the body, but disrupt hormonal balance.  The most well known xenoestrogen is bisphenol-A (BPA).  However there are many other xenoestrogens in plastic that may be even more deleterious than BPA.  The evidence that many plastic are harmful to health is unequivocal:

 

A phthalate is a chemical that softens plastic.  A well known one called di(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate (DEHP)  which is banned in some EU countries is found in all sorts of plastic items that little kids use and my daughter’s “chewy”.  DEHP is found in almost all soft plastic, for example food packaging.  A study that made the rounds a few years ago showed that limiting the amount of plastic in your food chain will reduce the amount of chemicals in the blood stream.  Unfortunately  these plastic endocrine disruptors are not just in the plastics which touch our food they are even in our organic farm foods.  A study last year found DEHP very high in dairy products.  This makes sense as they are not using metal buckets to collect warm milk, but rather it flows through plastic tubing. As a result dairy products may contain a  high amount of these endocrine disrupting chemicals which can also be why dairy has been associated with early puberty and feminization of boys.

Studies that try to answer the question if dairy is contributing to early puberty only look at hormone free milk vs ‘conventional’ milk.  However in these studies they didn’t actually test the milk to see if there are exogenous chemicals from the plastic collection materials.  The real endocrine disruptors are not coming from the bovine growth hormones (which are degraded by our stomach acid and will have no effect) but likely from the plastic tubing that collects the warm milk from the cow and other plastic in the production stream. So getting milk from a rBGH (rBST) free cow may be of little benefit from a hormonal health perspective if the organic cow (or grass fed cow) was milked with xenoestrogen leaking plastics.

Some people say “well I’ve been using plastics all my life and never had any issues”.  That may be true.  It also may be that one does not realize that the extra pounds around the waist may be from endocrine disruptors.  It doesn’t have to be a major health crisis to see that xenoestrogens are likely playing a role.  Certainly there are genetic influences that can dictate how one may excrete or hold onto these toxic compounds.  Some people may not have any deleterious effects of phthalates, while others are like a canary in a coal mine.

BPA-Free = Marketing Gimmick?

BPA is probably the most well known chemical in plastics thanks to the work of stories such as this several years ago.  Under consumer pressure the BPA was removed from baby items and now slowly from food cans and we see “BPA Free” advertising everywhere.   But is “BPA Free” really a solution?  Not so according to George Bittner and neurobiologist that runs a lab that certifies plastics as having no endocrine disruptors.  He published a study a few years ago that showed even BPA free plastic and plastics that claim no xenoestrogens do indeed have hormone disruptors.

In addition the substitute for BPA called bisphenol-S (BPS) may be just as bad:

“Researchers found that like BPA, BPS disrupts cellular responses to the hormone estrogen, changing patterns of cell growth and death and hormone release. Also like BPA, it does so at extremely low levels of exposure.”

Lobbyists Control Environmental Toxins

The American Chemical Society (ACS) continues to tell us that BPA is safe at the levels we are exposed to.  In fact they are promoting a just published study they claims proves BPA safety.  Problem is the study is fatally flawed as there was no control group because all the rats in the study had BPA in their blood, so there is no way to compare outcomes.    We know that the ACS uses Tobacco tactics to suppress information and make it seem that their chemicals are safe as they did when they tried to keep BPA in baby products.

Why in the United States is a chemical assumed safe and the burden of proof on the consumer to be guinea pigs?  In the EU safety must first be proven.  In addition what is the definition of “safe”?  Does safe mean you will not die or get cancer?  When has enough time passed?  Have you looked at all the variable outcomes?  The argument that BPA is safe s the same shortsighted argument made by the pro-GMOs.  There is some clear evidence that problems may not show up until successive generations. Unfortunately the FDA does not have the general populations best health interest in mind and they make the rules.

There Is Good News

How can we protect ourselves and children? Until recently we were using BPA free baby bottles for our daughter.  Not a day went by when I am warming the milk in warm water and not thinking about the potential harm I can be doing to her hormones in 10+ years.  I have little doubt that these xenoestrogenic chemicals are likely why so many teenage, 20-something females have gynecological issues.   If statistics for PMS were kept over the past 50 years we would likely see a sharp increase as we do with other chronic diseases.

Some options for reducing xenoestrogen exposure are:

  • Glass lock storage containers.   Yes the lids are still plastic, but keep anything warm away from the lid.  Best part is no spillage. BJs also has them as well.
  • Stainless steel water bottles.  This is a nice insulated one that doesn’t ‘sweat’ and got great reviews.
  • Glass baby bottles.  Given the data how these hormone disruptors can effect health I would minimize the risk.  It is typically warm liquid in a baby bottle.  Minimize plastics for young ones.

It is known that cruciferous vegetables, especially broccoli and cabbage,  can help clear unwanted estrogens from the body.  Therefore it is suggested to eat cruciferous vegetables to reduce xenoestrogen load.  I could not find any studies particular to xenoestrogens, but it does make sense.

If consumers drive demand for safety there are better plastics in our future.   There was just a press release about a safe BPA alternative.  In addition there can be plastics from safer materials  such as this one.

By holding the ACS accountable to their questionable studies and the FDA accountable not to succumb to special interests perhaps we can change the quality of plastics used in our everyday world.   Safer plastics in medical, food and everyday life will benefit all.

Yours In Health,

George Mandler CLT CNS LDN LicAc
Licensed Acupuncturist
Licensed Dietitian / Nutritionist

References

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