Monday, October 1, 2007

Negative Health Effects of Plastic: A Strong Possibility

So I've been hearing a lot of talk lately about the possibility that plastic has some pretty bad health effects, but I really hadn't had the chance to read up about it until this month.

So here's the deal: There have been lots of studies that have found that some plastics have bad health effects, but according to the scientific community, there's not quite enough scientific evidence to be sure. Still, based on the research available, it is likely that both plastics #3 and #7 have some pretty nasty health effects.

Polyvinyl Chloride or PVC (Plastic #3)
Scientific research has found that phthalates, which are added to PVC to soften it for certain uses, leech out of PVC into the human body. Unfortunately for us all, studies have also found that PVC may cause side effects such as decreased lung function, increased weight, increased resistance to insulin, low sperm count, and DNA damage to sperm. It has also been found the exposure to phthalates in PVC may negatively effect the reproductive development of infant males, resulting in undescended testes, smaller scrota, and smaller penises.

PVC is used in products such as children's toys, vinyl floors, wallpaper, shower curtains, vinyl bibs, and cosmetics, including lotions, shampoos, and nail polish. It is also used in many medical products including plastic bags for storing blood, plasma and intravenous fluids, feeding, breathing and dialysis tubes, catheters, respiratory masks, and exam gloves.

Polycarbonate (included in plastic #7 category, "Other")

Polycarbonate contains a chemical called bisphenol A that leeches into the foods that it comes in contact with. This chemical is widely known to mimic the human hormone estrogen. At this point, very little research has investigated the effects of Bisphenol A on humans. Based on the limited number of studies that have examined everyday contact with bisphenol A, the chemical may increase the risk of miscarriages and polycystic ovarian syndrome, a condition that can cause infertility, ovarian cysts, and baldness in women.

In animals however, bisphenol A has been widely researched. In the more than 150 studies on the effects of very low doses of bisphenol A in animals, the chemical has been linked to obesity, prostate and mammary gland cancers, early onset of puberty, reproductive-organ defects, reduced sperm counts, altered mammary glands, and difficulty getting pregnant. Scientists also found that low doses of bisphenol A received prenatally had lasting effects throughout an animal's lifespan.

Note that high doses of bisphenol A have not been found to cause significant effects, and that special interests groups have conducted high dose studies that have allowed them to make claims contrary to low dose studies.

USES: Polycarbonate is used in products such as baby bottles, aluminum cans, pop cans, nalgene bottles, generic polycarbonate water bottles, sunglasses, eyeglasses, safety glasses, coffee makers, consumer electronics, laptop computers, CDs, DVDs, and dental sealants. It's also used for many other products including car parts, water filters, textiles, and paper, and is a widely used flame retardant.

To read more about potential negative health effects of PVC and Polycarbonate, visit:
L.A. Times article - Plastic May Not Be So Fantastic for Kids article - Two Words: Bad Plastic


Anonymous said...

Hi. Another one you might want to add to this list is polystyrene (#6) aka Styrofoam.

The Smart Plastics Guide says, "Styrene can leach from polystyrene plastic. Styrene is toxic to the brain and nervous system, among workers with longer-term exposures,15,16 but also has been found to adversely affect red blood cells, liver, kidneys and stomach in animal studies.17 Aside from exposure from food containers, children can be exposed to styrene
from secondhand cigarette smoke, off-gassing of building materials, auto exhaust fumes and drinking water."

LifeLessPlastic said...

Definitely. #3 and #7 happened to be the plastics focused on in the articles I read last week, but I've been reading bad things about #6 as well. I'll do more research on it and probably post something about it within the next few weeks. Oh, and I just downloaded that there Smart Plastics Guide, which is pretty interesting. I'm excited to look into the resources they list at the end of the document, too. Thanks!

TwistedPlotter said...

Thanks for the incoming link on your latest post, I think your website is a great idea! I don't think there is enough awareness about the dangers of plastics.

One of my big concerns is vinyl shower curtains because they continue to release gases into your home for years! A slightly better alternative is to go nylon, but ideally an eco-sensitive bather should buy a hemp shower curtain. They are available through,, or you could make your own. You could also install a shower door!

Alia said...

Good for people to know.

Anonymous said...

Lookig at the broad and varied use of plastics, it is pratically impossible for any one to run away from particularly the long term effects of plastics use. Probably what best anyone could ever do is minimise the extent of damage to ones health both in the short and long term by avoiding using it when one can.For example not heating food in plastic in the microwave and avoiding direct contact with food. We are all at risk. God save us.

Anonymous said...

One of my big concerns is vinyl shower curtains because they continue to release gases into your home for years! A slightly better alternative is to go nylon, but ideally an eco-sensitive bather should buy a hemp shower curtain.

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Anonymous said...

I think you may all be too quick to hate plastic packaging, try looking into its enviromental benifits. For example did you know,

Plastics are very light weight compared to competing materials in the packaging industry. This means that they are more energy efficient in transportation saving fuel and money, whilst also reducing carbon emissions. In a report published by the American Chemistry council, it was discovered that ‘in 1990 alone the use of plastic packaging versus alternative materials in packaging and disposable goods, saved enough energy to power 100, 000 homes for 35 years.’ This effectively means that without plastic, the equivalent to an additional 58 million barrels of oil, 325 billion cubic feet of natural gas would have been required to meet Americas packaging needs in 1990 alone.

I understand the negative aspects of plastics, but I also understand the positive aspects. Maybe it would be wise to examine two sides of an argument, as you may find that it is actualy quite balanced. To purposefuly avoid knowing something is ignorance.

Anonymous said...

hi i think this site is awesome as i needed to do some research on the health risks of plastic. thanks so much