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How Plastics Affect Health

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The evidence is growing continually that chemicals leached from plastics used in cooking and food/drink storage are harmful to human health. The most disturbing of these are hormone-mimicking, endocrine disruptors, such as bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates.

The plastic polycarbonate - used for water bottles and various other items requiring a hard, clear plastic - is composed primarily of BPA. Peer-reviewed scientific studies have linked BPA to health problems that include chromosomal and reproductive system abnormalities, impaired brain and neurological functions, cancer, cardiovascular system damage, adult-onset diabetes, early puberty, obesity and resistance to chemotherapy. Exposure to BPA at a young age can cause genetic damage, and BPA has been linked to recurrent miscarriage in women.

The health risks of plastic are significantly amplified in children, whose immune and organ systems are developing and are more vulnerable.  The evidence of health risks from certain plastics is increasingly appearing in established, peer-reviewed scientific journals.

Of the thousands of chemical additives added to plastics - and which manufacturers are not required to disclose - one type commonly added to plastics are "plasticizers," which are softening agents making it easier for the polymer chains to move and be flexible.

For example, the commonly used and extremely toxic plastic polyvinyl chloride (PVC) can contain up to 55% plasticizing additives by weight. These are generally phthalate chemicals. Phthalates are known to disrupt the endocrine system as well, and have been linked to numerous health conditions including cancers. Certain phthalates have been banned in Europe and the U.S. for use in certain products, such as toys.  

For details and references on numerous types of plastics, please see the Plastic Types section.

For more information and references on the health issues related to plastics, see our Plastic Types, Plastics & Health, and Resources sections in our INFO menu.