Scientific studies have shown that plastic water bottles pose more than just environmental threats. The chemicals found in certain types of plastic are endocrine disruptors that interfere with the body’s hormones. These chemicals pose the greatest risks to children who are still in developmental phases. When endocrine blockers affect children’s hormones, problems with natural growth and development may occur. The Natural Resources Defense Council discusses the harmful effects of endocrine disruptors and offers possible plans of action to eliminate the use of such chemicals.
Different Types of Plastic
Not all plastics contain endocrine blockers, so it is important for consumers to know the difference. There are seven different types, and they can be identified by the labels on each container. Every plastic product includes a recycling symbol with a number that corresponds to the type of plastic. Some are safe for food and water consumption while others are not. The seven types are as follows:
- Polyethylene Terephthalate (PETE)
- High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)
- Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)
- Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE)
- Polypropylene (PP)
- Polystyrene (PS)
- Polycarbonate (PC)
Plastics 2, 4 and 5 are generally safe to use around food and water. HDPE is used to make milk gallons, juice bottles and other opaque containers. Our 4 pound jars of drinking powder as well as bath clay are made of HDPE.
LDPE includes the safe type of plastic wrap, bread packaging and grocery bags. PP is used in the production of medicine bottles, condiment containers and drinking straws. Plastic #1 is safe to use with food and water only once. This type of plastic is very porous and can trap bacteria that may leach into food if the container is reused. PETE is largely used to produce soda and water bottles.
Numbers 3, 6 and 7 should be avoided, especially around food. PVC is commonly used in plumbing pipes and certain types of plastic wrap. When using PVC plastic wrap, it should never be used for cooking. PS plastics are used to make Styrofoam, a common packaging material. Styrofoam has a high rate of leaching, and most environmental agencies advise consumers to avoid it completely. All other plastics fall under the PC category. The exact contents of these plastics may not be known, so it is wise to avoid them. Bisphenol-A, or BPA, is part of the polycarbonate group and is linked to developmental problems.
Chemicals of Concern
Studies performed on animals have pinpointed some of the plastic chemicals that can cause harmful effects. BPA is probably the most alarming for parents because baby toys and feeding accessories used to contain this chemical. BPA is an endocrine disruptor that acts like the hormone estrogen. In children, this chemical has been linked to reproductive abnormalities, hyperactivity and premature puberty. This endocrine blocker is also associated with diabetes, certain cancers, heart disease and liver problems. An article from Time Science delves deeper into the risks of exposure to BPA and how it affects humans.
Phthalates are another cause for concern. These chemicals disrupt the hormone testosterone and can cause genital defects in boys. DEHP is a type of phthalate that is used to make plastic products more pliable. When children place toys with DEHP in their mouths, they increase the risk of developing reproductive problems. Nonstick cookware, such as Teflon, releases phthalates when heated at high temperatures. When breathed in, these chemicals can cause asthma in children. The Washington Toxics Coalition suggests ways in which consumers and institutions can avoid phthalates.
Polystyrene is extremely harmful when its chemicals leach into food. Styrofoam contains possible carcinogens that can alter a person’s genetic structure and lead to abnormal cells. Polystyrene also affects the central nervous system. Children who are exposed to PS may experience frequent headaches along with a lack of energy and depression. These children may feel more anxious than normal and develop sleeping disorders like insomnia. In rare cases, children lose part or all of their hearing. To avoid these risks, Styrofoam should never be used around food.
Pregnant women who are exposed to plastic chemicals have a risk of passing those endocrine disruptors on to their babies. By interfering with the fetus’ hormones, the child may not develop properly. Some studies have shown that contaminated plastics can cause birth defects, including brain disorders and deformations. The most common issues are associated with sexual development.
When buying plastic containers of food or water, consumers should check the label to make sure it is a safe type.Safer alternatives include glass, stainless steel, cast iron, wood and bamboo. Many baby products now contain BPA-free labels that parents can look for.
Nicola Stevens is a part-time writer with insurancequotes.org and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.