Friday, January 22, 2010

Plastics - How toxic are they?

Plastic - Its all around us. A lot of childrens toys are made out of plastic. We store our food in it, whether it be on the table or in the refrigerator & freezer. We drink liquids from it & we eat off of it. We even put food that is stored in plastic into the microwave to "heat" it up to eat it. The microwave is a whole blog topic on its own.

Lets look at each type of plastic & its toxicity.

#1 plastic - Polyethylene Terephthalate (PETE)
Uses: 2 liter soda bottles, cooking oil bottles, peanut butter jars.

This plastic was LONG considered to be one of the safest plastics to use as it was BPA (Bisphenol A). But, is this still true?

In a review done by Leonard Sax, PETE may leach endocrine disrupting phthalates. He considered evidence that the antimony from PET containers may lead to endocrine-disrupting effects.

Under what conditions do these chemicals leach into the product that is stored in them? Here is a list of "conditions" in which these chemicals are released into the product.

-Phthalates leach from the plastic into lower pH products such as soda & vinegar more readily than into bottled water
-Temperature also appears to influence the leaching both of phthalates (& antimony), with greater leaching at higher temperatures
-Combining both variations of low PH & high-heat exposure could result in an even higher leaching of phthalates
-Variations in the composition & manufacture of PET may also influence the leaching of these substances into the contents of the bottle. PET is typically a homopolymer, but some copolymers are also categorized as PET (copolymers have been found to be less vulnerable to degredation, thus leaching less)

Mr. Sax concludes that the evidence suggests PET bottles may yield endocrine disruptors under conditions of common use, particularly with prolonged storage and elevated temperature. Because of the widespread use of PET plastic worldwide, more research is needed to clarify how PET containers may be contaminated by endocrine-disrupting chemicals.

#2 Plastic - High Density Polyethylene (HDPE)
Uses: detergent bottles, milk jugs.

This HDPE is one of the safer (notice I didn't say safest) & strongest plastic there is. Its opaque & harder for a reason, to withstand sunlight longer & last longer.

In researching this plastic, I was unable to find any real hazards. Of the 3 dozen or so articles I read, only 1 said that they took a drink from a #2 plastic & the drink tasted strongly of plastic.

Many articles showed that if you are going to have a water bottle, that a #2 water bottle is the way to go. As it replaces a #1 plastic that might leach chemicals into the liquid.

However, you want to avoid the Nalgene bottles made of Lexan that are more colorful. I did find one article in which it talked about BPA being leached into the liquid from this type of plastic. The article recommended going with a #2 type of plastic.

#3 Plastic - Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)
Uses: plastic pipes, outdoor furniture, shrink wrap, water bottles, salad dressing & liquid detergent containers.

This is the most toxic form of plastic known to man. But yet, it is commonly used in homes today as plumbing. My husband used to work with PVC quite a bit. But since we have learned the toxicity of this plastic, we go with the more expensive plastic called "pex" which I will talk about later in this article.

Have you ever worked with PVC? Have smelled the fumes that come from the glue that is used to glue the joints together? I have many times in the past & usually got a nasty headache from it. I wonder why? Because PVC is 10-12 times more toxic than any other plastic out there. When PVC burns, it releases hydrochloric acid. Hydrochloric acid it is a highly corrosive, strong mineral acid and has major industrial uses. Do you really want to be showering or drinking water that has come from a pipe that can possibly leach this into the water? The making of PVC in its manufacturing processes consume approximately 30% of the chlorine used in industrial processes and releases many other toxic chemicals, some of which are accumulate in the body. Accumulate in the body? Isn't is bad enough that we have aluminum & mercury that accumulate in the brain as neurotoxins but also chemicals from the manufacturing process of PVC?

It is also a carcinogen, cancer causing. PVC will not break down in the landfills & will leach carcinogenic chemicals into the air, water and soil. Despite these facts, the FDA has approved this plastic to be used for the use in the packaging of our food, our health care products, & our medicines. This is the same branch of government that approves vaccines & the ingredients in them.

Hmmm, maybe its time to rethink many of the things in our lives.

#4 Plastic - Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE)
Uses: dry cleaning bags, produce bags, trash can liners, food storage containers.

Most Tupperware products are made of LDPE or PP (next one to be covered), & as such are considered safe for repeated use storing food items & cycling through the dishwasher. Most food storage products from Glad, Hefty, Ziploc & Saran also pass the test. As far as the generic or non-name brands, I can't say if they are "safe" or not. If there is a consumer safety line on the box, I would be calling to see what the "base" plastic is & go from there.

#5 Plastic - Polypropylene (PP)
Uses: bottle caps, drinking straws & Yogurt cups.

This is a robust plastic that is heat resistant considered highly safe for human use. Because of its high heat tolerance, Polypropylene is unlikely to leach even when exposed to warm or hot water. This plastic is approved for use with food & beverage storage. Polypropylene plastics can be re-used safely & with hot beverages.

Again this is one of the "safer" plastics. (notice not safest)

#6 Plastic - Polystyrene (PS)
Uses - packaging pellets or "Styrofoam peanuts," cups, plastic tableware, meat trays, to-go "clam shell" containers.

When I was going thru our plastic containers around the house about a year ago, I was surprised to see how many #6 plastics I had around the house, including styrofoam plates & bowls, Solo cups for picnic & camping use & some of the plastic glasses we had. All of them went into the garbage & I just recently found a few more way back in the cupboard.

Polystyrene contains the toxic Styrene which is labeled a possible human carcinogen by the EPA. When you are drinking out of a styrofoam cup, have you ever tasted the plastic in the liquid or let your tongue touch the cup & taste the plastic that way? #6 plastics leaches styrene into food & drink. This is definitely another off limits plastic.

#7 Plastic - Other
Uses: certain kinds of food containers & Tupperware

Believe it or not there are 2 different kinds of #7 plastics. One is environmentally friendly & the other is not. The environmentally friendly one is the kind you can use & the one that is not environmentally friendly can be a conglomeration of any of the plastics listed above.

However, I have not been able to find any environmentally friendly #7 plastics. I read several articles for this portion of my blog & one article said that the jar was listed a #7 plastic because it had a #1 interior & a #7 exterior, therefore it got a #7 designation. How in the world does that work?

Now, there is another plastic out there that doesn't have any of these designations. Its called Pex. For the articles I read on this, no known contaminants were leached into the water systems. It seems this is a safer (not completely safe) alternative to plumbing in the home & general use. It is hard but not as hard as PVC as it can be manipulated somewhat for the use you need. We plan on using this in the garage that we are building in the backyard this summer.

Here are a few links to my resources for this article.

'Til next time,