Saturday, August 11, 2007

Danger of plastics

While scientists and environmental activists have been concerned about the dangerous effects of chemicals in plastic for some time, finally an official goverment agency may recommend action. According to an article in the August 9th LA Times, a federal panel of scientests concluded that an estrogen-like compound in plastic could be posing risks to the brain development of infants and children. BPA, a component of polycarbonate plastic, can leach from baby bottles and other hard plastic containers, food can linings, and other consumer products (including water bottles.)

The biggest risk, according to the panel, is for fetuses, pregnant women, infants, and children. Low doses of BPA cause structural changes in the brain that trigger learning deficits and hyperactivity. There is also some concern that it harms the prostate gland and causes premature puberty. Some studies found altered brain development, precancerous changes in prostates and mammary glands, low sperm counts, and damage to the uterus but Plastics industry reps say the experiments were flawed and inconclusive. Many animal studies that found reproductive effects were rejected because the animals were exposed through injections rather than diet.

Hopefully, the final report will trigger a review of BPA by California officials under Proposition 65, which requires warnings on consumer products that pose risk of cancer or reproductive harm.

In the meantime, avoid using plastic food containers as much as possible. Never put hot food in plastic or use plastic dishes in the microwave. I don't use plastic to store any liquids. I use glass or stainless steel - even for water bottles. I also try not to purchase any liquid food packaged in plastic but that continues to become harder and harder to do. Foods like juice, peanut butter, and ketchup are more and more frequently available only in plastic containers.

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