The U.S. National Toxicology Program recently issued a preliminary report that chemicals in the polycarbonate plastic of baby bottles and other shatterproof vessels (Nalgene) could be linked to hormonal disruption. Earlier this week the Today Show (NBC) aired a feature on these toxins in plastics. The segment was so popular and received such a large response that NBC aired a follow-on segment the following day. Being one who has used a Nalgene bottle for years, I was fairly dismayed. And became more so when I learned that the 5 gallon water jugs delivered to our office water cooler are also made out of this type of plastic (marked with a 7 in the recycle triangle on the bottom).
They recommended the website for the Institute of Agriculture and Trade Policy for further information, which was crashed all day Wednesday due to the influx of millions of Americans trying to find out if we are all getting slowly poisoned by our water bottles and tupperware. Despite the continued assertions of some U.S. health officials that there is nothing to be immediately alarmed about, Canada is about to declare an ingredient in the #7 polycarbonate plastic - bisphenol-A - as toxic.
I've been hearing for a while now that the use of plastics in cooking and food storage can carry health risks, but I never really paid attention beyond not heating or microwaving in plastic containers. But now I'm hearing that we should be concerned about hormone-disrupting chemicals from plastics leaching into any food or beverage, not just heated.
The Smart Plastics Guide says that "a myriad of petroleum-based chemicals go into the manufacture of plastics. Some can leach into food and drinks and possibly impact human health. Leaching increases when plastic comes in contact with oily or fatty foods, during heating and from old or scratched plastic. Types of plastics shown to leach toxic chemicals are polycarbonate, PVC and styrene. This does not imply that other plastics are entirely safe. These plastics have just been studied more."
The worst offending plastics are: #'s 3, 6 and 7.
#7, Polycarbonate, the one with bisphenol-A, used in most plastic baby bottles, 5-gallon water bottles, "sport" water bottles, metal food can liners, clear plastic "sippy" cups and some clear plastic cutlery.
#3, PVC or Polyvinyl chloride, used for cling wrap, some plastic squeeze bottles, cooking oil and peanut butter jars, detergent and windown cleaner bottles.
#6, Polystyrene, used in Styrofoam products.
What can we do? Tips from the Smart Plastics Guide:
1. Avoid using plastic containers in the microwave. Since chemicals are released from plastic when heated, it’s safest not to microwave food and drinks in plastic containers. Instead use glass or ceramic containers free of metallic paint. If you do microwave in plastic, use only plastic labeled "microwave safe." Note that "microwave safe" does not mean that there is no leaching of chemicals. Avoid using for fatty foods, as there is greater leaching of chemicals into fatty foods.
2. Beware of cling wraps especially for microwave use. Instead use waxed paper or paper towel for covering foods. If you do use plastic, don’t let the plastic touch the food. For plastic-wrapped deli foods, slice off a thin layer where the food came in contact with the plastic and re-wrap in non-PVC plastic wrap or place in a container.
3. Use alternatives to plastic packaging whenever possible. Use refillable containers at your local food cooperative. Bring you own take-home containers to restaurants. Bring reusable bags or cardboard boxes to the grocery store.
4. Avoid plastic bottled water unless you’re traveling or live in an area where the quality of water is questionable. Bottled water, because it is less regulated, has less-certain purity and safety than tap water, and is much more expensive. If you’re worried about tap water quality, consider installing a home water filter or use an inexpensive filter pitcher. Reduce or eliminate use of plastic bottles to avoid landfill waste and exposure to chemicals that leach from the plastic. You can also look for new biodegradable bio-based plastic water bottles.
5. If you do use plastic water bottles, take precautions. If you use a polycarbonate water bottle, to reduce leaching of BPA, do not use for warm or hot liquids and discard old or scratched bottles. Water bottles from #1 or #2 plastics are recommended for single use only. For all types of plastic, you can reduce bacterial contamination by thoroughly washing daily. However, avoid using harsh detergents that can break down the plastic and increase chemical leaching.
Babies and children are at the greatest risk. IATP recommends you should use alternatives to polycarbonate plastic baby bottles and "sippy" cups.
After my cancer diagnosis, I have slowly learned to reduce and better manage the toxins we are exposed to on a daily basis, and when it comes to things like this, I don't take my chances, I go with REDUCE MY RISK. I dropped out of our water club at work in favor of a Brita at my desk, for example. Brita's website claims its containers are "safe" for use. For anyone wondering what to replace your Nalgene with, the Camelbak bottles are not made with polycarbonate plastic. Or there is the Kleen Kanteen. We can never get away from ALL plastics, but at least where the greatest risks seem to be presently, I will definitely be steering clear!