Q. I have been concerned about estrogen compounds found in plastic food and water containers. Now that many companies have taken BPA (bisphenol A) out of their products, I am wondering about the replacement chemicals. Are non-BPA plastics really free of hormone-disrupting activity?

A. This is a highly controversial topic with no easy answers. A court battle recently raged in Texas over the question of estrogenic activity in a some non-BPA plastic. Questions were rasied about which tests are most helpful in measuring hormone effects. 

One study published in Environmental Health Perspectives (online, March 2, 2011) suggested that some non-BPA plastics exposed to detergent or sunlight “release chemicals having EA [estrogenic activity].”

The federal jury in Texas ruled in favor of the Eastman Chemical Company that makes Tritan copolyester material, a substitute for BPA. The conclusion seems to be that plastic made with this compound is free of estrogenic activity. That is reassuring for plastic made with Tritan.

Since it is often hard to determine what chemicals are in your plastic containers, we encourage readers to avoid using plastic in the microwave or washing them in the dishwasher.

You can learn much more about endocrine disruptors and guidelines for avoiding BPA in our hour-long radio shows: Sex Hormone Disruption, Hormone Disruption Part 2, or BPA in Your Soup?

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  1. Karen
    Reply

    >Should we all go back to the iron skillet?
    You say this like it’s a bad thing.
    We never left iron. Well-maintained iron skillets are just as non-stick as any teflon, and they last forever. The worst that happens is … oops… you get a little bit more iron in your food. I can live with that.
    When it comes to the “old pipe problem,” I had my house water tested. No lead. Cost about $100 and that’s way cheaper than buying water.

  2. cpmt
    Reply

    there are several stores that sell them (for children). as for the frypan either a good stainless steel or the sell some European that have porcelain and are not expensive. I buy mine in TJ MAX OR MARSHALs if they don’t have it the day you go, comeback. the prices are 30% to 50% cheaper that a regular store.

  3. sv
    Reply

    I have been shopping for safe drinking goblets for children from 3 to 9–something
    they can easily grasp that won’t turn to shards when hitting the floor. Where should
    I look? Additionally, are T-fal, Teflon and other coated fry pans dangerous? Is there a safe, easily cleaned frying pan? Should we all go back to the iron skillet?

  4. BobK
    Reply

    If enough readers write to the various companies who use plastics in their products and tell them that they will quit buying their products unless they switch to glass containers this plastic mania will eventually come to an end.
    As an example I and apparently enough other consumers wrote to the major soup companies indicating that too much salt is used in their products. Lo and behold about six months later most of the major players came out with lite versions of the same soup. The amount of salt in these soups was reduced by 25% to 50%.
    The manufactures of plastic products say that they haven’t found any issues with these levels of BPA which means they really don’t know. Remember all the nay sayers regarding second hand smoke?

  5. JAM
    Reply

    I think plastic should be banned and go back to the glass containers. I have done away with almost all of the plastic that I was using and I don’t cook in the microwave anymore, not even for heating up. It is not that much trouble using the stove and besides, I don’t like food cooked in the microwave. The flavor is just not the same. We are all living in a plastic world anymore which is not good for our landfills and in my opinion, could be harming us.
    P.S.I am also concerned about the old skillets with the coating inside that comes off in our food and am turning to stainless steal and cast iron again.

  6. KDJ
    Reply

    My periodontist highly recommended a custom made appliance to help correct clenching jaws/TMJ issues. I used it faithfully for not quite a month, and found my calves so swollen my slacks were tight, and my tinnitus so loud it was distracting. I did some research on appliances [could only find ones for sleep apnea, but figured they were probably all made from similar plastics], found no references to swollen legs, but several about the tinnitus. Stopped using the appliance, within days the swelling was gone, and the tinnitus down to its usual fairly easy to ignore level. Oops, waste of several hundred dollars….

  7. jll
    Reply

    In reference to plastics containing BPA, the old plastics called melmac or melamine have not been mentioned. I still have some of the old melamine from the 50’s. Should I be cautious about using these?

  8. Eleanor K.
    Reply

    Just because a jury of lay people find for a giant chemical company does not make the finding of no estrogenic activity true. It was a battle between lawyers and Eastman can afford the best. I store all my food in glass containers and use only ceramic for service dishes.

  9. Karen
    Reply

    > Are non-BPA plastics really free of hormone-disrupting activity?
    There’s really only one useful answer to this question: No.
    And that’s bigger than “hormone disrupting activity.” The question that the OP is probably intending to ask, is “In 20 years, will we discover that these new plastics are just as bad in some other area of our health?”
    To that, the likely answer is “Yes,” or at least, that’s the way to bet.
    Use glass. Don’t drink stuff that comes in plastic bottles. Don’t put plastic anything in the microwave.

  10. Jen
    Reply

    Oops. After using only glass for refrigerated foods for many months I just broke down and bought a couple of new plastics – the raspberries were freezing in the glass dishes. So…. I first washed the new plastics in the dishwasher. Does your advice indicate a change in the plastics from the dishwasher that is permanent? This may seem minor, but I’m doing my best to steer clear of this problem.
    People’s Pharmacy response: A single washing should not be a problem. It is repeated exposure to dishwasher detergent and high temperature that can lead to plastic deterioration.

  11. Water bottles...
    Reply

    Now that many of us have switched from drinking tap water because of old pipes, flouride, etc, etc, we are drinking from plastic water bottles. What is the best way to mitigate risks from drinking from plastic water bottles?
    Should we purchase gallon water and transfer to glass water bottles for drinking, keeping the gallons out of sunlight? Where can we find water that is simply OK for us to drink?
    Finding clean water in the civilized world seems to be a challenge.
    People’s Pharmacy response: Stay tuned to the People’s Pharmacy for a radio show this fall with Dr. Jim Salzman. His book is called Drinking Water, and we talked to him about some of the issues you have raised.

  12. cpmt
    Reply

    I recently read in a magazine that ALL PLASTICS release chemicals that mimic estrogen or affect the human body in other ways, like neurological and /or endocrine disruptors. Plastics are affected in hot /warm and cold/freeze surfaces or places (they will be affected even in a hot sun.

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