By Barbara Ficarra, RN, BSN, MPA
Information circulating about the dangers of plastic containers has created fear and confusion.
Are plastic containers toxic? Do harmful chemicals leach out into its contents? Do we need to discard all plastic containers?
Recently, I interacted in a live health chat on MedHelp about the safety of plastics. Scientist, Joe Schwarcz, PhD, Director of McGill University’s Office for Science and Society talked about “ The Real Truth About Plastics: What you should and shouldn’t worry about .”
While Dr. Schwarcz states that some plastics like Tupperware and Rubbermaid are safe to use, there are other plastics made of Bisphenol A (BPA) that may cause some concern, however he did not become alarmed.
There is extensive information on the safety of plastics, and reading some of it can easily cause panic and confusion, but the smartest step health consumers can do for themselves is to remain calm and don’t become alarmed. Gather the facts and determine what’s best for you.
The Facts About Bisphenol A (BPA)Bisphenol A (BPA) is used to manufacture polycarbonate plastics. This type of plastic is used to make some types of beverage containers, compact disks, plastic dinnerware, impact-resistant safety equipment, automobile parts, and toys. BPA epoxy resins are used in the protective linings of food cans, in dental sealants, and in other products. General exposure to BPA at low levels comes from eating food or drinking water stored in containers that have BPA. Small children may be exposed by hand-to-mouth and direct oral (mouth) contact with materials containing BPA. Dental treatment with BPA-containing sealants also results in short-term exposure. In addition, workers who manufacture products that contain BPA can be exposed. BPA can leach into food from the epoxy resin lining of cans and from consumer products such as polycarbonate tableware, food storage containers, water bottles, and baby bottles. Additional traces of BPA can leach out of these products when they are heated at high temperatures.
During the Live Chat
An audience member during the live chat asked about the safety of plastics that contain chemicals that mimic estrogen that may result in developing breast, uterine, or ovarian cancers; Dr. Schwarcz replied that these plastics contain BPA and phthalates and that they are estrogenic. He states, however that we are “exposed to estrogenic compounds all over the place. Soy contains isoflavones which are estrogenic, so do chickpeas, and of course milk! Natural estrogens in milk are thousands of time more potent estrogens than BPA.”
Dr. Schwarcz writes about Bisphenol A in his blog Chemically Speaking.
American Chemistry Council
“ An international panel of experts concluded that food is by far the main source of bisphenol A (BPA) exposure and that other sources are of minor relevance. The experts were also able to model circulating levels of BPA in the human body, which are very low, indicating that BPA is not accumulated in the body and is rapidly eliminated.” – The World Health Organization (WHO), 2010
U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
But, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) , In January 2010, the FDA announced it shares the perspective of the National Toxicology Program (NTP) that recent studies provide reason for some concern about the potential effects of BPA on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland of fetuses, infants, and children. “The NTP has minimal concern for effects on the mammary gland and an earlier age for puberty for females in fetuses, infants, and children at current human exposures to bisphenol A.”
Information from the live chat provided by Dr. Schwarcz and audience questions appear below. You can read the full health chat on the safety of plastics on Medhelp.
(The live chat dialogue has been edited for grammar and spelling, content remained unchanged.)
Dr. Schwarcz talks about the “precautionary principle” where using a replacement that is less risky is good option like in the case of baby bottles. Glass bottles are available and it is a good alternative to plastic ones. He also says that using “glass or ceramic” are the best in the microwave. He did not say to stop drinking out of water bottles and buy only BPA free products either. He did say in his live chat, that plastics that mimic estrogen contain BPA. He further adds that we are “exposed to estrogenic compounds all over the place,” milk, soy, chickpeas are some examples of these compounds. “Natural estrogens in milk are thousands of time more potent estrogens than BPA,” he stated during the live chat. While there is no clear conclusive evidence that BPA is 100 percent detrimental to your health, there is a report from the FDA in conjunction with the National Toxicology Program (NTP) that recent studies provide reason for some concern about the potential effects of BPA on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland of fetuses, infants, and children. The NTP has minimal concern for effects on the mammary gland and an earlier age for puberty for females in fetuses, infants, and children at current human exposures to bisphenol A.
If you are concerned, you can make personal choices to reduce exposure:
You are smart health consumers. You can decide what’s best for you.
Additional and Helpful Resources
National Toxicology Program -Headquartered at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences NIH-HHS
U.S. Food and Drug Administration (Home Page)
We would love to hear your insightful thoughts. Are you concerned about the safety of plastics? Do you use plastic containers? Do you use only glass containers? Are you concerned about the BPA? Do you buy BPA free products? What type of containers do you use to microwave your foods?
As always, thank you for your time.