Environmental Safety at Home
The latest scientific research has given us a lot of good reasons to think carefully about how we use plastics. The main concern with several types of plastic is that they contain endocrine disruptors — substances that, when taken into our bodies, alter normal hormonal function. Over the past several years, scientists and the media have struggled to find answers to mysteries such as precocious puberty, declining fertility rates in otherwise healthy adults, hyperactivity in kids, the fattening of Canadians, and the persistent scourges of prostate cancer and breast cancer. Although multiple factors play a role in all of these conditions, one recurrent theme is the brew of endocrine disruptors infiltrating our lives.
Effects of Endocrine Disruptors
Endocrine disruptors (which are now widespread in food, water, soil and even the air we breathe) include a long list of chemicals such as dioxins, cadmium, parabens, bisphenol a, phthalates, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), agricultural chemicals, polybrominated flame-retardants, and some of the active ingredients in sunscreens.
Many of these chemicals cause problems because they can mimic the action of natural estrogen. These foreign estrogens (also known as xenoestrogens) can upset normal hormonal balance, stimulate the growth and development of reproductive tumors (breast, uterine, prostate), impair fertility, and disrupt pregnancy. Worse, many can cross the placenta to affect the fetus and get into breast milk. Chemicals such as phthalates have an antiandrogenic effect, meaning they interfere with testosterone and other hormones responsible for male sex characteristics. Exposure to these agents during fetal life and early childhood can derail normal sexual development and heighten the risk for diseases that don’t become apparent until adulthood, such as cancer.
Problems with BPA
One of the most troubling endocrine disruptors is a common ingredient in plastic called bisphenol a (commonly called BPA). Used to produce polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins, BPA is found in many drinking containers, the lining of most food and beverage cans (including soda cans), bottle caps, plastic cutlery, plastic food storage containers, toys, dental sealants, some dental composites, water pipes, eyeglass lenses, and more. Polycarbonate is often blended with other plastics to create products such as mobile phone cases, car parts, electronic equipment, medical equipment, and household items. Because BPA is in printer ink, newspapers, and carbonless receipts, most recycled paper contains it, including paper towels and paper used to contain food.
Trouble with Phthalates
Phthalates represent another ubiquitous category of endocrine disruptors. Used to soften plastic, these chemicals pop up in PVC-containing plastic products, including:
- Children’s Toys
- Personal Care Products (Cosmetics, Nail Polish, Hair Spray, Deodorant, Shampoos, Body Washes, Perfumes)
- Air Fresheners
- Insect Repellents
- Detergents and Other Cleaning Products
- Vinyl Products (Shower Curtains, Raincoats, Vinyl Flooring)
- Medical Equipment (Tubing, Bags for Intravenous Fluids, Vinyl Gloves)
- The Plastic in Breast Pumps
- The Outer Coating on Many Pills
- Garden Hoses
- Pool Liners
- Modeling Clay
- Food Packaging
With respect to pacifiers and baby bottle nipples, most companies have switched to latex- and silicone-based materials in their manufacturing.
Because phthalates aren’t tightly bound to plastics, they readily migrate into neighboring substances such as food, water, air, and saliva. Phthalates are thus present in our urine, blood, breast milk, saliva, amniotic fluid, and seminal fluid.
Keeping BPA out of Food and Beverages
Can the cans. Canned foods are likely to be the highest contributor to BPA in our diets. Also, parents should buy powdered rather than liquid infant formula, because the former has less exposure to the BPA lining the can.
If you use plastic wrap, try to find one that does not contain BPA. The trouble is that companies are not required to tell you what is in plastic wrap though studies show that many stretch wraps contain BPA and other endocrine disruptors.
Warm and store food in ceramic or glass containers. The label “microwave safe” on a plastic food container only means that the plastic will not melt. If the product contains BPA, it will leach into your food faster when warm.
Make sure baby bottles, pacifiers and toys are BPA-free. Use metal or wooden utensils when you cook. Use wooden rather than plastic cutting boards, and clean thoroughly after use.
Most natural health product manufacturers are aware of these packaging issues and have taken responsible measures to ensure their products and containers are free of chemical toxins. Also, Nature’s Source carries high-quality thermos containers.