Worried about scary news reports on phthalates in baby toys, food containers and other number 1 plastics? Toss out your hard plastic water bottles out of concern for bisphenol A?
Animal studies have linked phthalates at high doses to lowered testosterone levels, reduced sperm counts and reproductive defects, reports the Los Angeles Times. A government panel recently found "some concern" that bisphenol A, or BPA, causes neural and behavioral problems if fetuses or young children are exposed.
More and more consumers -- often led by new mothers -- are expressing concern about such potentially toxic chemicals in plastic products. Sales of glass baby bottles and bisphenol A-free items are surging. California passed a law restricting certain phthalates in items meant for children younger than 3.
Given their explosive popularity in an ever-widening array of applications, plastics are now ubiquitous in our environment, from litter to everyday items, from cars to homes, from hospitals to schools. Marine researchers have shown that plastic debris outweighs zooplankton in parts of the Pacific Ocean, while doctors estimate plastic components can be found in the bodies of nearly all Americans. Plastics have been tentatively linked to reproductive harm as well as asthma and obesity.
The trouble is, there have been precious few studies on the actual affects of all these plastics and human beings, particularly over the long term. Animal studies can't always translate, and neither can lab tests that measure extremely high doses. It's clear that much more research needs to be done on a substance that shows up everywhere, based on real world exposure. Just as recent recall scares with lead toys have shown cracks in the consumer protection facade, lack of studies on plastics show faults in the public health safety net. Regulators are clearly not able to shield children and families from everything, and that's driving many to rethink their use of plastics.
As a precaution, it might not be a bad idea to cut down on plastics given to babies and young children. Cloth and wooden toys may be safer (make sure there's no lead paint). Avoid heating foods in plastics, which can accelerate the breakdown to toxic by-products, and don't use plastics that are old, worn and scratched.
Given that most plastics are also made of oil, a dwindling resource, it further suggests that now may be the time to look more closely for alternative materials. Maybe our shiny plastic world isn't all it's cracked up to be.
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