“The use of these chemicals is totally unregulated internationally,” Cooper said. “So even if there is a voluntary agreement in domestic markets, the cheap stuff from developing countries or export processing zones makes it on to our shelves and into our homes.”
Among the more worrying materials for contaminate leaching is PVC (polyvinyl chloride), commonly referred to as vinyl. The chemicals leached during the PVC lifecycle include mercury, dioxins and phthalates. PVC is used in numerous consumer products, including adhesives, detergents, lubricating oils, solvents, automotive plastics, plastic clothing, personal-care products (such as soap, shampoo, deodorants, fragrances, hair spray, nail polish), as well as toys and building materials.
Organizations including the U.S.-based National Toxicology Program, the Environmental Protection Agency, the International Agency for Research on Cancer and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health agree that vinyl is one of only 52 chemicals/compounds designated as a confirmed human carcinogen.
Often found on the bottom of plastic bottles, other containers, and shopping bags, the numbers and letters shown with the chasing-arrows “recycling” symbol mean the following:
#1 PETE or PET (polyethylene terephthalate): used for most clear beverage bottles.
- #2 HDPE (high density polyethylene): used for “cloudy” milk and water jugs, opaque food bottles.
- Number 3 Plastics #3 PVC or V (polyvinyl chloride): used in some cling wraps (especially commercial brands), some “soft” bottles
V (Vinyl) or PVC
Found in: Cooking oil bottles, clear food packagingHarvard-educated Dr. Leo Trasande of the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine advises consumers to avoid number 3 plastics for food and drinks. (If you’re unsure, look for the little symbol that should be printed on the container. Some brands have left the symbols off, which is a major problem.)
Why? Number 3 plastics may release toxic breakdown products (including pthalates) into food and drinks.
The risk is highest when containers start wearing out, are put through the dishwasher or when they are heated (including microwaved). PVC manufacturing can release highly toxic dioxins into the environment, and the materials can off-gas toxic plasticizers into your home.
- #4 LDPE (low density polyethylene): used in food storage bags and some “soft” bottles.
- #5 PP (polypropylene): used in rigid containers, including some baby bottles, and some cups and bowls.
- #6 PS (polystyrene): used in foam “clam-shell”-type containers, meat and bakery trays, and in its rigid form, clear take-out containers, some plastic cutlery and cups. Polystyrene may leach styrene into food it comes into contact with. A recent study in Environmental Health Perspectivesconcluded that some styrene compounds leaching from food containers are estrogenic (meaning they can disrupt normal hormonal functioning). Styrene is also considered a possible human carcinogen by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer.
Number 6 Plastics PS (polystyrene) Found in: Disposable plates and cups, meat trays, egg cartons, carry-out containers Number 6 plastics (polystyrene) are made into soft Styrofoam-style cups as well as rigid foams and hard plastic products, so remember to look for those little numbers in the arrows (don’t feel bad if you need a magnifying glass). Avoid using them as much as possible. Why? Number 6 plastics can release potentially toxic breakdown products (including styrene). Get this: particularly when heated! That insulated coffee cup — the one that ‘knows’ when to keep your drink warm — doesn’t seem so smart anymore does it?
- #7 Other (usually polycarbonate): replace with 1, 5 or corn-based plastics, or even shatter-resistant glass.
used in 5-gallon water bottles, some baby bottles, some metal can linings. Polycarbonate can release its primary building block, bisphenol A, another suspected hormone disruptor, into liquids and foods. In 1998, the Japanese government ordered manufacturers there to recall and destroy polycarbonate tableware meant for use by children because it contained excessive amounts of bisphenol A. Other sources of potential bisphenol A exposure
Water Stored in Plastic Water bottles are be made from various types of plastic — polycarbonate (PC), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), Polypropylene (PP), high-density polyethylene (HDPE), low-density polyethylene (LDPE), polyvinyl chloride (PVC or vinyl), and others. To reiterate, they all migrate to some degree. I will focus on just one chemical that migrates out of one plastic that is used to make products with high use and sales profiles. Bisphenol-A (BPA) is a monomer used in the synthesis of PC plastics, epoxy resins, and composites, as well as a heat stabilizer in PVC. The list of products containing BPA is long. Some rigid containers such as water and baby bottles are made of PC. The popular Nalgene® water bottles are made of Lexan® brand PC. In the medical industry, it is used for syringes, containers, lenses, and dental products. Keep in mind that the FDA regulates only plastics in contact with foods and not any of the other exposures a person might commonly experience every day at home, school, or the office. Because the FDA approves plastics for specific uses rather than for individual chemicals, BPA is not explicitly regulated. It is important to note that all exposures, no matter what origin, are relevant and cumulative. Even other chemicals that act in the body in similar ways can be part of the total effect. The body’s natural defenses try to breakdown toxins as they enter. These are called metabolites and can be significantly more toxic than the original chemical.