Plastic is EVERYWHERE! Look around. I’ve know this for a while but this behind the scenes experience made me realize how much it is everywhere even when we don’t see it.
While out the other day I stopped to get my favorite fast food (organic) coffee. While sitting at the drive up window I watched as the employees got ready for the day. As I watched, an employee took out a thick plastic bag, probably the size of a 9x12 bake pan , filled with a thick orange substance. She put it in a big metal dispenser out came the orange substance into a big PLASTIC cup full of a customers nutritious morning orange juice. So, not only is the orange juice stored and transported in a thick plastic bag it is then put in a plastic cup for our consumption. This is just a small view of how plastic is everywhere. Plastic is used because it is lightweight, easily moldable, performs many jobs, to name a few. But plastic is very toxic. I know we need plastics but I believe we should be educated about its affects on us so we can make educated consumer choices.
What made me write about plastics and why is it such a big deal to me you ask?? It is this. Endocrine disruptors. The basics of what they are, what they do to us and the environment is as follows:
What is an endocrine disruptor?
An endocrine disruptor is a manmade chemical that when absorbed into the body mimics or blocks hormones. This reaction disrupts the body’s normal functions.
Chemicals that are known human endocrine disruptors :
- Bisphenol-A: A synthetic substance used to make polycarbonated plastics found in food and drink containers, the lining of tin cans, toys, baby bottles, plastic wraps only to name a few. This Chemical leaches out into food and water.
- Phthalates: Synthetic substance added to plastics to make them softer, more flexible and resiliant. This substance is found in IV tubing, vinyl flooring, glues, inks, detergents, plastic bags, children’s toys, shower curtains, soaps, shampoos, perfumes, hair spray, nail polish.
- Parabens: Compounds used as preservatives in many, many cosmetic, food and pharmaceutical products.
- PBDE’s (polybrominated diphenyl ethers): Found in flame retardent furniture, mattresses, carpets, curtains, just to name a few. This substance is stored in animal fats and thus found in dairy products, meat, fish and human breast milk. It has been banned in several countries. It has also been found in house dust.
- PCB’s (polychlorinated biphenyls): A highly toxic synthetic chemical compound found in lubricating oils in pipelines, mixed with adhesives, paper, inks, paints and dyes. PCB’s have been banned since 1976 in new products but they are highly stable compounds and degrade very slowly so these chemicals still exist.
- Dioxin: Dioxin is a general name applied to a group of hundreds of chemicals that are highly persistent in the environment. The most toxic Dioxin compound is TCDD. Dioxin is formed as a by-product of many industrial processes involving clorine, such as pulp and paper bleaching, pesticide manufacturing and wast incineration. Small molecules are diffused into the air and land in soil, where they are eaten by soil microbes. From there they pass into the food chain of meat, fish, dairy products and breast milk. We absorb 90% of the dioxin in our bodies through food sources... I don’t think I’ve ever seen this on a food label, have you???? UGGHH!!
The good news is that levels have been decreasing since the 1990’s with environmental measures but it is still the most prevalent toxic chemical in our environment.
Heavy metals: Mercury and lead, cadmium and arsenic are used widely.
- Diethylstilbesterol (DES drug): A drug used in the 60’s and 70’s given to women to help avoid miscarriages.
- DDT and some other pesticides: toxic to the nervous system and reproductive system.
Exposure to endocrine disruptors happens often through direct contact with the chemicals or through ingestion of contaminated water, food or air.
Endocrine disruptors can leach out of plastics. These disruptors accumulate in fat.
Many plant and animal species are showing signs of ill health due to exposure to these chemicals. For example, fish in the Great Lakes, which are contaminated with PCBs have reproductive problems as well as swollen thyroid glands. Fish eating birds are showing similar dysfunctions.
Scientists think that the declining alligator population in Lake Apopka, Florida is connected to a large pesticide spill several years earlier and the alligators have been found to have these endocrine disruptors in their bodies and eggs.
So you say “So, fish and birds aren’t the same as humans, right?”
Wrong. All vertebrates (fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals, including humans) similar during the embryonic development. Scientists can therefore use evidence acquired on other species regarding endocrine disruptors on humans.
There is also direct endocrine disruption evidence in humans. DES, a synthetic estrogen from the 1960’s and 70’s used to prevent miscarriages has been known to create high rates of vaginal cancers as well as birth defects of the uterus and ovaries and immune system suppression in teenage daughters of women who used this drug.
Children are of greater risk from affects of these disruptors because of the development of vital organs during childhood years. They are more vulnerable to this exposure.
The majority of chemicals on the market do not even go through the simplest testing for toxicity before allowed for sale and use. So you can’t trust the higher ups to help us on this one. And we all know plastics are made from petrochemicals (crude oil). But that’s a whole other story for another time.
This information is to say the least daunting. As I researched and wrote I cringed and wanted to throw everything in my house away and go live in a cave and grow my own food. But that is just not realistic or fun. So what can we realistically do about all of this?
Here are 10 things to start:
1. Get educated and then educate your family and friends. Even if they don’t want to hear it it may be in the back of their minds and eventually may think about it.
2. Buy organic when possible.
3. Baits and traps are good for pests. Also, keep your home clean to prevent roach infestations.
4. Campaign for non toxic alternatives when you can.
5. Eat fish from lakes rivers or bays and check with your state to see if they are contaminated.
6. Avoid plastic containers, ESPECIALLY heating food in them.
7. Avoid storing fatty foods in plastic containers or plastic wrap. Use glass instead.
8. Do not give young children soft plastic teethers or toys, since both leach potential endocrine disrupting chemicals.
9. Read the labels on soaps, shampoos, nail polish, hairspray especially using it on children.
10. Use reusable cloth bags for the supermarket. I like these anyways....easier to carry, they don’t cut into my hands and I can fit more into them.
This may all be daunting to you. I know it is to me. Plastics can’t be avoided completely but I think we can limit our use by making better choices. These choices aren’t always convenient but aren’t we and our families worth the trouble?
By the way, my organic coffee came to me in a styrofoam cup. I poured it to a ceramic coffee cup when I got home.
Natural Resources Defense Council, www.nrdc.org/health/effects/qendoc.asp#disruptor, retrieved 11/23/09
www.tvo.org/igm/plastic/whyplastic.html, retrieved 11/24/09
www.womentowomen.com/detoxification/endocrinedisruptors.aspx, retrieved 11/24/09