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 Environmental Health & Green Living

 

Are We Eating Plastic?

Dr Sreedevi Yadavalli

 
Plastics are inseparable from our food. Our food gets processed, packaged, transported, stored and even cooked and re-heated in plastic, in case we’re using the microwave oven.

With our food always touching plastic, haven’t you wondered if the aftertaste of this convenience could be harmful to our health? Recent discussions in this space indicate that you do have cause to worry.

Leaching of plastics

The process by which minute bits of plastic get into our food from containers is called “leaching”. Almost any plastic container can be expected to leach trace amounts of plastics into food – a fact that the chemical industry acknowledges – though the amount of transfer is variable.
  • Heating food in plastic seems to increase the amount that’s transferred into food.
  • Leaching also increases when plastics touch fatty, salty or acidic foods.
So, if plastic leaching into food is inevitable, how safe is the food we eat?
Well, the little research that’s gone into the ill-effects of plastics leaching into our bodies suggests that two class of chemicals are clearly guilty of potential health hazards:

1. Bisphenol A (BPA)
BPA is a common chemical used in hard, lightweight plastics called polycarbonates.

Effects on health
  • BPA is an endocrine disrupter, which means it has the ability to disrupt the functions of hormones – especially oestrogen (female sex hormone), which may result in disruption of reproductive development and function.
  • One study showed that people who had high levels of BPA in the urine had a higher rate of diabetes, heart disease, and liver toxicity.
  • Obesity may be increased as a function of BPA exposure.
  • Perinatal exposure to low doses of BPA alters breast development and increases breast cancer risk.
  • Research has found a connection between BPA and interference with brain cell connections vital to memory, learning and mood.
Common uses of bisphenol A or BPA
  • Since polycarbonate plastic is clear and shatter-proof, it is used to make baby bottles and water bottles, sports equipment, medical and dental devices, dental fillings and sealants, eyeglass lenses, CDs and DVDs, and household electronics.
  • Epoxy resins containing BPA are used as coatings on the inside of almost all food and beverage cans.
2. Phthalates
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is used in a wide variety of products. To soften it and make it more flexible, ‘plasticizers’ are added to PVC during its process, the most common one being phthalates. Phthalates can leak out of PVC, when in contact with food, especially hot, fatty food.
 
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