Dangerous Plastics, Safe Plastics

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BPA can leach into food when plastic food containers are heated. A better choice is to warm and store food in ceramic or glass containers.
BPA can leach into food when plastic food containers are heated. A better choice is to warm and store food in ceramic or glass containers.
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Dangerous plastics to avoid include certain water bottles that can leach BPA into their contents when left out in the sun or otherwise heated.
Dangerous plastics to avoid include certain water bottles that can leach BPA into their contents when left out in the sun or otherwise heated.
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Laura Vandenberg, Ph.D., says that “Canned foods are likely to be the highest contributor to BPA in our diets, not plastics.”
Laura Vandenberg, Ph.D., says that “Canned foods are likely to be the highest contributor to BPA in our diets, not plastics.”
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Artificial fragrances, including those in perfumes, detergents, cleansers, and personal-care products, commonly use diethyl phthalate (DEP).
Artificial fragrances, including those in perfumes, detergents, cleansers, and personal-care products, commonly use diethyl phthalate (DEP).

You’ve been out?—?working, exercising, shopping. You open the car door and slip into the ovenlike interior. Throat dry, you reach for the water bottle that’s been sitting in the cup holder all day. It’s warm. But at least it’s water, right? Water, yes, albeit water potentially spiked with chemicals that migrated out of the plastic?—?chemicals that aren’t good for your health.

The latest scientific research has given us a lot of good reasons to think carefully about how we use plastics. The main concern with several types of plastic is that they contain endocrine disruptors?—?substances that, when taken into our bodies, alter normal hormonal function. Over the past several years, scientists and the media have struggled to find answers to mysteries such as precocious puberty, declining fertility rates in otherwise healthy adults, hyperactivity in kids, the fattening of America, and the persistent scourges of prostate cancer and breast cancer. Although multiple factors play a role in all of these conditions, one recurrent theme is the brew of endocrine disruptors infiltrating our lives.

Effects of Endocrine Disruptors

Endocrine disruptors (which are now widespread in food, water, soil and even the air we breathe) include a long list of chemicals such as dioxins, cadmium, parabens, bisphenol A, phthalates, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), agricultural chemicals, polybrominated flame retardants, and some of the active ingredients in sunscreens.

Many of these chemicals cause problems because they can mimic the action of natural estrogen. These foreign estrogens (also known as xenoestrogens) can upset normal hormonal balance, stimulate the growth and development of reproductive tumors (breast, uterine, prostate), impair fertility, and disrupt pregnancy. Worse, many can cross the placenta to affect the fetus and get into breast milk. Chemicals such as phthalates have an antiandrogenic effect, meaning they interfere with testosterone and other hormones responsible for male sex characteristics. Exposure to these agents during fetal life and early childhood can derail normal sexual development and heighten the risk for diseases that don’t become apparent until adulthood, such as cancer.

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