Potentially dangerous chemicals in plastic containers
While strolling through a supermarket, an assortment of plastic-packaged products ranging from canned tomatoes to bottled water or coated tin cans can be found.
Seeming harmless and even healthful at first glance, the bottles contain chemicals known as phthalates and Bisphenol A, or BPA, which, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, have shown in some animal studies to report effects in fetuses and newborns exposed.
BPA is a chemical that has been used since the 1960s in products such as plastic bottles, as well as metal-based food and beverage cans, according to the Food and Drug Administration’s website. Phthalates are chemicals used to make plastic stronger and more flexible.
Alexandra Tower, a biological sciences professor at Santa Monica College, says that BPA is a hormone disrupter that has led to problems like the early onset of puberty and menstruation in girls, and the development of breast tissue and smaller penis sizes in boys.
“We have even seen other health issues that are linked — but there is still research that needs to be done — to things like obesity and mental health issues, and other developmental issues as well,” Tower says. “It is not just with a person ingesting it. It could be a parent ingesting it and then passing on that damage to the DNA onto their offspring.”
Tower says having something in a plastic container sitting out and getting hot can contaminate food and beverages. The heat will leech out all those toxins from the plastic into the water.
“Then you are going to drink your BPA-contaminated soup,” Tower says.
The same will occur with acidic beverages like orange juice and coffee. A canned tomato, Tower says, is “the worst thing in the world that you can eat because it has so much BPA, and it is not really regulated.”
Tower adds that canned tomatoes are also heavily acidic, and sit in the can for a long time while undergoing temperature changes during transport.
So why are these chemical compounds not prohibited by the FDA if they pose such a significant health risk, and why are they so rampantly present in packaged food products and containers?
The FDA’s website states that BPA is rapidly metabolized and eliminated by the human body, and the level of BPA that could be passed from mother to fetus is so low that the amount cannot be measured.
“The chemical industry has a very strong lobby, and they are going to do anything they can to fight any kind of regulation of any of these products because it is what they do for a living,” says Tower. “Regardless of whether it kills you or not, they need to make money right now.”
A 2012 article on CNN’s website reports that the National Resources Defense Council petitioned the FDA to ban the use of BPA in products manufactured in the U.S. only to have the request denied by the agency.
“It is like the cigarette industry; it is like any other industry,” says Tower. “They know what is going on, but they don’t want you to know about it.”