Plastic is everywhere in our environment. It is found in nearly all packaging of consumer goods. If you want to buy juice for your family, the likelihood is it will be in plastic. Water? Right again. Almost all water bottles are made of plastic. Where does it all go when we are done with it? There are massive quantities in the ocean and in landfills. And now, researchers report that it is in us as well. Chances are good that you have plastic in your body or chemicals from plastic in your blood stream and urine.
Plastic Is NOT Impermeable!
Most people think that plastic is inert. It seems solid enough. But we began to suspect something was up with plastic almost 50 years ago. When we were in graduate school at the University of Michigan we met a woman who had worked in a communications job for the plastics industry. She warned us that the industry she had worked for was paying careful attention to questions about the leaching of chemicals out of plastic containers.
This was just a few years after Dustin Hoffman heard the word plastic in the movie The Graduate (in 1967).
The Graduate “One Word: Plastics”
Mr.McGuire pulls Dustin Hoffman aside
“I just want to say one word to you. Just One Word
“Are you Listening?
“Yes I am
“Exactly how do you mean?
“There’s a great future in plastics. Think about it. Will you think about it?
“Yes I will
“Enough Said. That’s a deal.”
If you want to see the actual scene from this memorable movie, here is a link.
Is There A Problem With Plastic?
Plastics have indeed come to dominate our lives. We take plastic for granted and assume it is safe. And yet we have learned that plastics contain chemicals that get into our bodies. Phthalates are found in most soft plastic. These chemicals make plastic pliable. Phthalates are also called plasticizers.
Decades ago we became aware of the possible toxicity of the phthalates in plastic intravenous containers. An article in Drug Intelligence & Clinical Pharmacy offered this early warning (Sept. 1982):
“Many containers for intravenous solutions are made with plasticized polyvinyl chloride, the common form of which is di-2-ethylhexylphthalate (DEHP). Extraction of DEHP into blood and plasma stored in such plastic containers can occur, and harmful effects of DEHP in the human body consequently have been suggested. Reports on toxicity of DEHP in animals during pregnancy and the developmental period are critically reviewed.”
Many ingredients in plastic, like bisphenol A (BPA) have been dubbed endocrine disruptors. That means they may act like hormones in the body, especially estrogen. Perhaps you remember the baby bottle furor from a few years ago.
The New York Times summed it up nicely (July 17, 2012).
“The Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday that baby bottles and children’s drinking cups could no longer contain bisphenol A, or BPA, an estrogen-mimicking industrial chemical used in some plastic bottles and food packaging…”The F.D.A. declared BPA safe in 2008, but began expressing concerns about possible health risks in 2010.”
An article in Scientific American titled, “BPA-Free Plastic Containers May Be Just as Hazardous” raised new concerns about plastic (Aug. 11, 2014).
More recently, an article in National Geographic’s Science & Innovation publication (Sept. 13, 2018) offers additional concern: “Why ‘BPA Free’ May Not Mean A Plastic Product is Safe.”
Is There Plastic in Your Body?
Almost assuredly there are phthalates circulating in your blood stream.
A large study by the CDC concluded:
“CDC researchers found measurable levels of many phthalate metabolites in the general population. This finding indicates that phthalate exposure is widespread in the U.S. population.”
But what about actual plastic in your body? A small study that included eight participants from Japan, Russia and Europe found tiny particles of plastic in their stool (United European Gastroenterology annual meeting, Vienna, Austria, Oct. 23, 2018). Nine different types of plastic were detected out of the ten the researchers were looking for. Polypropylene and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) were the most common.
What Does It Mean To Have Plastic in Your Body?
No one knows the implications of these findings. How widespread is plastic contamination of the human digestive tract? Scientists suspect that perhaps half the people on earth carry microplastic around in their guts, but this has not been proven.
They also do not know whether microplastic particles might alter immune responses or affect hormonal systems. What is clear is that we cannot continue to add plastic to our environment and expect to remain unaffected.