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New Report On Harms to Human Health From Chemicals In Plastics

The issue of plastics, the chemicals they contain, and the harms to human health has been documented in a new report from the international Endocrine Society. This is a problem that won't go away because plastic use is increasing throughout the world, we use plastic products every day, we are surrounded by plastics, and they are now everywhere in our environment.

Chemicals leach out of the plastics and so get into us, wildlife, and the environment. Plastics also degrade into tiny particles called microplastics over time - which is why we find tiny plastic particles in our water, air, house dust, foods, beverages, and even in our bodies and feces.

Plastics can contain endocrine (hormone) disrupting chemicals, which can disturb or disrupt the body’s hormone systems. They can cause cancer, diabetes, reproductive disorders (e.g. fertility problems, lowered sperm count), neurological impairments (e.g. lower IQ) of developing fetuses and children, and death. Fetuses, babies, and young children are especially vulnerable to these chemicals. [More posts on this topic.]

More than a thousand manufactured chemicals that are used nowadays are endocrine disrupting chemicals, also called EDCs. Some examples of common EDCs are bisphenols (e.g.BPA and BPS), phthalates, flame retardants, water and stain-resistant chemicals, and non-stick coatings in cookware. They are found in many household and personal care products, and toys (e.g. vinyl toys).

And no, the US government is doing nothing about this issue. Right now it is up to us individually to try to protect ourselves and to lower our exposures to endocrine disrupting chemicals and other harmful chemicals. List of things you can do: Tips to reduce harmful chemical exposures and levels in your body. [For ex.: Microwave food only in regular dishes. Not in plastic containers or pouches.]

The Endocrine Society (a global society of physicians and scientists) came out with a report documenting the harms of endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) in plastics. Their Dec. 10, 2020 announcement: Plastics, EDCs & Health: Authoritative Guide, contains a link to the full report.

The Endocrine Society has a two page really nice summary and explanations of the types of chemicals found in plastics: 7 Harmful Chemical Types in Plastics [They are bisphenols, alkylphenols, phthalates, perfluorinated chemicals, brominated flame retardants, dioxin, and UV stabilizers.]

From Medical Xpress: Plastics pose threat to human health

Plastics contain and leach hazardous chemicals, including endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) that threaten human health. An authoritative new report, Plastics, EDCs, & Health, from the Endocrine Society and the IPEN (International Pollutants Elimination Network), presents a summary of international research on the health impacts of EDCs and describes the alarming health effects of widespread contamination from EDCs in plastics.  

EDCs are chemicals that disturb the body's hormone systems and can cause cancer, diabetes, reproductive disorders, and neurological impairments of developing fetuses and children. The report describes a wealth of evidence supporting direct cause-and-effect links between the toxic chemical additives in plastics and specific health impacts to the endocrine system.

Conservative estimates point to more than a thousand manufactured chemicals in use today that are EDCs. Known EDCs that leach from plastics and threaten health include bisphenol A and related chemicals, flame retardants, phthalates, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), dioxins, UV-stabilizers, and toxic metals such as lead and cadmium. Plastic containing EDCs is used extensively in packaging, construction, flooring, food production and packaging, cookware, health care, children's toys, leisure goods, furniture, home electronics, textiles, automobiles and cosmetics.

Key findings in the report include:

  • One hundred and forty four chemicals or chemical groups known to be hazardous to human health are actively used in plastics for functions varying from antimicrobial activity to colorants, flame retardants, solvents, UV-stabilizers, and plasticizers.
  • Exposure can occur during the entire life span of plastic products, from the manufacturing process to consumer contact, recycling, to waste management and disposal.
  • EDC exposure is a universal problem. Testing of human samples consistently shows nearly all people have EDCs in their bodies.
  • Microplastics contain chemical additives, which can leach out of the microplastic and expose the population. They can also bind and accumulate toxic chemicals from the surrounding environment, such as seawater and sediment, functioning as carriers for toxic compounds.
  • Bioplastics/biodegradable plastics, promoted as more ecological than plastics, contain similar chemical additives as conventional plastics and also have endocrine-disrupting effects.

"Many of the plastics we use every day at home and work are exposing us to a harmful cocktail of endocrine-disrupting chemicals," said the report's lead author, Jodi Flaws, Ph.D., of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in Urbana, Ill. "Definitive action is needed on a global level to protect human health and our environment from these threats."

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