|Plastic (Not) Fantastic - Food Containers Leach a Potentially Harmful Chemical
Is Bisphenol A, a major ingredient in many plastics, healthy for children and other living things?
Bisphenol A (BPA) is a ubiquitous compound in plastics. First synthesized in 1891, the chemical has become a key building block of plastics from polycarbonate to polyester.
Since at least 1936 it has been known that BPA mimics estrogens, binding to the same receptors throughout the human body as natural female hormones. And tests have shown that the chemical can promote human breast cancer cell growth as well as decrease sperm count in rats, among other effects. These findings have raised questions about the potential health risks of BPA, especially in the wake of hosts of studies showing that it leaches from plastics and resins when they are exposed to hard use or high temperatures (as in microwaves or dishwashers).
BPA is routinely used to line cans to prevent corrosion and food contamination; it also makes plastic cups and baby and other bottles transparent and shatterproof. When the polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins made from the chemical are exposed to hot liquids, BPA leaches out 55 times faster than it does under normal conditions.
But experts are split on the potential health hazards to humans. Scientists have found that the amount of BPA present in humans exceeds levels that have caused ill effects in animals. They also found that adults' ability to tolerate it does not preclude damaging effects in infants and children.
It is the unborn baby and children that scientists are most worried about,noting that BPA was linked to increased breast and prostate cancer occurrences, altered menstrual cycles and diabetes in lab mice that were still developing.
The chemical industry argues that unless BPA is proved to have ill effects it should continue to be manufactured and used, because it is cheap, lightweight, shatterproof and offers other features that are hard to match. The chemical industry says there is no alternative for either of those materials [polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins] that would simply drop in where those materials are used.
This has been disputed by scientists who note that there are plenty of other materials, such as polyethylene and polypropylene plastics, that would be fine substitutes in at least some applications. According to the scientists there are a whole variety of different kinds of plastic materials and glass that are all more stable than polycarbonate.
If canned goods or clear plastic bottles are a must, such containers should never be microwaved, used to store heated liquids or foods, or washed in hot water (either by hand or in much hotter dishwashers). These are fantastic products and they work well [but] based on scientific data currently available, there is reason for caution.
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