I’ve long been suspicious of the side effects of certain chemicals present in plastics that are billed as safe. Even mainstream sources have been questioning the safety of particular toxic chemicals found in petroleum-based products, namely phthalates.
Experts initially dismissed the phthalate debate as nothing more than needless, unsubstantiated worry. Subsequent studies gave the concerns some validity and recommendations to conduct further investigations were deemed worthy. Still, until recently, the evidence was not persuasive enough for the authorities. Now the lid on the Tupperware, as it were, has sealed.
A little history: environmentalists have been raising eyebrows at the use of certain chemicals, including phthalates, in consumer products. Especially worrisome: toys, bottles, pacifiers, utensils, and other household consumer objects that children are prone not simply to use but to break their first tooth on. Animal studies have conclusively established risks including cancer, birth defects, and developmental delays. Of course, the plastic widget makers of the world – and their equally Teflon-coated lobbyists in Washington – have fiercely contested such studies. (I always find it “interesting” that animal studies are acceptable in some cases and not in others.) At any rate, it was only several hundred animal studies, so clearly, there was no cause for alarm.
Fast forward. Phthalates (“thalates”) and another common ingredient in the plastic cocktail, bisphenol A, have now been shown to pose risks for humans. These chemicals are endocrine disrupters, which is a syllabic way of saying they mess with sex. In particular, they interfere with proper hormonal development, meaning they can impair, exaggerate, or otherwise negatively affect organs and hormones related to masculine and feminine functions. Human studies have shown problems such as improperly developed testicles, low sperm count, and altered brain structure. Fun.
A recent study found that one-quarter of American women have phthalate levels high enough to directly affect their children’s reproductive, mental, and developmental health. Trust the toy makers if you want, but I’m siding with the tree-huggers. Here are some common products that contain these toxic sex-altering chemicals:
1. Nail polish with DBP.
2. Watch for “fragrance” that isn’t explicitly listed. Lavender extract is one thing; “fragrance” in your detergent is another. And it’s likely to be phthalates.
3. Kitchen plastics. Go for wood, ceramic, metal, and glass. If you do use plastic, don’t microwave it. These chemicals leach out when heated.
4. Vinyl and PVC-based toys and clothes. Spring for wood, glass, natural rubber, wool, cotton, bamboo, and other natural products. If it has that “new plastic” smell, that’s phthalates. Yum.
5. Air fresheners. Even if they are “fragrance free” they may still contain these chemicals. Just stop plugging it in, spraying, spritzing, and scenting. Use soy or beeswax candles or open the windows for a cross-breeze instead.
ntr23 Flickr Photo (CC)