• What Health Issues Are Caused by Chemicals From Plastics?

Health & Safety

What Health Issues Are Caused by Chemicals From Plastics?

Oct 23 2022

The problems of plastic pollution are well documented. But as well as potentially endangering the environment, the widespread use of plastic bottles, containers and other food and drink packaging could be detrimental to human health. That’s because over time, the chemicals contained within the plastic can leach into the food or drink it houses, before being ingested by people.

Although more research needs to be conducted into the long-term health impacts caused by consuming these chemicals, there is a mounting body of evidence which indicates they could be bad for us over a long period of time. We look at the most common health issues believed to be caused by chemicals leaching out of plastics into our food – as well as the disturbing implications of what we have yet to discover.

Bisphenol A and phthalates

Until fairly recently, bisphenol A (BPA) was a chemical found in almost all plastics, thanks to its heat-resistant properties. However, studies have shown that it’s an endocrine disruptor, meaning it could play havoc with the body’s reproductive system. Meanwhile, phthalates – used to soften plastic and make it more flexible – have also been found to be an endocrine disruptor.

As well as reducing fertility in both males and females, these chemicals could cause birth defects and development problems in the children of pregnant women exposed to the substances. They have also been linked with cognitive and neurodevelopment issues, as well as being labelled possible carcinogens (meaning they could cause or contribute to cancer).

The “unknown unknowns”

Of course, these alarming studies have prompted plastic manufacturers to search for alternative chemicals to replace BPA and phthalates. The trouble is, little is known about these newer options; according to research conducted by Swiss non-profit organisation Food Packaging Forum (FPF), 60% of the 4,300 chemicals which are known to be used or likely to be used in manufacturing plastic do not have any available data on their hazards.

This means that there is a strong chance that emerging contaminants are contained within the plastics, about which we currently know very little but which could cause serious health concerns in the future. Bisphenol S (BPS) and bisphenol F (BPF) were both originally thought to be harmless replacements for BPA, for example, but it has since emerged that they carry serious health risks of their own.

Taking precautions

Of course, plastic is such a ubiquitous material in the modern world, especially in the food and drink industry, so avoiding it altogether is a tall order. However, you can take basic precautions to minimise the risk of contamination as much as possible. This means limiting the plastic’s exposure to heat as much as possible by refraining from microwaving leftovers in it or placing it in the dishwasher.

However, the best way to ensure that you don’t suffer from any adverse health effects caused by chemical contamination from your food is to look for alternatives to plastic. Drink tap water instead of bottled water, buy loose fruits and vegetables at the store and choose glass or metal containers to store food in instead of plastic.


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Asian Environmental Technology 26.4 - November 2022

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