Consuming Microplastics With Our Food & Water — Part 3

by admin on May 9, 2020

Plastics continue to degrade into smaller sizes becoming more dangerous

How to Eat Less Plastic, How to Minimize Exposure — You May be Ingesting Up to a Credit Card Amount of Plastic Weekly

From the Cover Story of Consumer Reports Magazine, Volume 85, Number 6, June 2020, pp. 26 – 35.

Part 3 — A Trail of Chemical Harm

No matter what new information scientists discover about the potential danger from microplastics, we already have sufficient evidence that the chemicals found in various plastics can have serious adverse effects on our health, says Leonardo Trasande, M.D., director of the Center for the Investigation of Environmental Hazards at New York University and the author of “Sicker, Fatter, Poorer” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019), a book about endocrine-disrupting chemicals.

“What we know raises serious red flags about chemicals used in plastic containers,” he says. They affect brain and organ development in children, and are linked to infertility and cardiovascular problems. Around 10,000 adult men die from cardiovascular disease linked to phthalates every year, he says.

There’s essentially no limit to the types of plastic that can be produced from thousands of types of chemicals, leading to products that range from flimsy high-density polyethylene grocery bags to bullet-stopping Kevlar. These chemicals are added to different plastics to give them various properties. Most people are familiar with better-known villains, such as BPA, which has been used since the 1950s to make hard, clear plastic like that used for some beverage bottles. But many other chemicals in plastics have been linked to serious health effects, including other bisphenols (in the same family as BPA), phthalates, and styrene. These chemicals can seep from packaging into food and then into the human body, Trasande says.

The shape and structure of chemicals such as BPA and phthalates cause them to interfere with the endocrine, or hormonal, system, which is why they’re known as endocrine disrupters. Tiny amounts of hormones, measured in parts per billion or even per trillion, affect the function of a wide range of systems throughout our bodies. And that’s what makes even a low dose of BPA or these other endocrine disrupters a focus of medical concern.

Bisphenols are thought to affect reproduction; some experts have suggested a link to the significant decline in sperm count in high-income countries over the past few decades. But there is also concern that they may affect brain development and the immune system, and can increase obesity and cancer risk — especially cancers influenced by the endocrine system, such as mammary and prostate cancer, says Laura Vandenberg, Ph.D., an associate professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences.

Phthalates are also known to disrupt hormones, and prenatal exposure to phthalates is associated with lower testosterone in male offspring. Styrene, another chemical found in plastic and food packaging, has been linked to nervous system dysfunction, hearing loss, cancer, and more.

“BPA is the poster child for these types of chemicals,” says Patricia Hunt, Ph.D., a professor at Washington State University’s School of Molecular Biosciences in Pullman. The outcry around BPA created enough consumer pressure that by 2008, some manufacturers started to remove it from certain products. However, when companies removed it, they often replaced it with other chemicals that are structurally similar to BPA, such as bisphenol S and bisphenol F.

“We’re starting to realize that the BPA replacements have very similar biological effects as the original chemical,” Vandenberg says. That means a product touting its BPA-free status might be just as harmful. Worse, these replacements face less scrutiny—“a byproduct of the lax regulatory framework in which we live,” says Trasande, who describes the efforts to keep up with these replacements as “chemical whack-a-mole.”

Recent research has also revealed that we may have underestimated our exposure to these chemicals all along, Hunt says. Scientists have typically measured the presence of BPA in our bodies by analyzing the products of metabolized BPA in urine and converting them back to the original substance; these efforts found BPA in more than 90 percent of people studied.

Hunt and colleagues have developed a new way to directly measure not just the BPA in urine but also its metabolic products processed by the body. In doing so, they found BPA levels in the human body that may be 44 times higher than a national survey found using the older method.

Our exposure to other chemicals has usually been measured in the same indirect way, Hunt says. That may mean we’ve also underestimated our exposure to phthalates and other chemicals of concern. “Our data is suggesting some people—[and] some pregnancies, some fetuses—are in fact exposed to quite high levels [of BPA],” she says.


See also: Endocrine-disrupting chemicals weaken Americans’ life-or-death battles with COVID-19 — Jerrold J. Heindel and Linda S. Birnbaum, Environmental Health News, April 23, 2020

Endocrine-disrupting chemicals masquerade as hormones. These insidious contaminants increase the diseases that cause the underlying conditions that result in susceptibility to COVID-19.

Most Americans have endocrine disrupting chemicals in their bodies. We are exposed to them via our food, the air we breathe, our drinking water, and the products we allow into our homes and lives. Plastics, personal care products, drugs, pesticides, flame retardants, air pollution, household products, food additives, nonstick cookware, and many other products contain endocrine disrupting chemicals.

Human epidemiological studies and experiments in laboratory animals establish without question that such exposures can increase susceptibility to these diseases and many more. Exposures can also cause immunosuppression, which increases vulnerability to infections.

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