If you think “The Graduate” when you see or hear the word “plastics” you are either of a certain generation or a fan of classic movies.
Plastics have made our lives easier and more convenient since the 1950’s.
Although this invention seems to be the best thing since sliced bread, it has also brought about concerns and issues related to human health and safety. Moreover, petroleum based products (plastics) are ending up in landfills, waterways and wildlife. While recycling is necessary for the preservation our planet, we also need to focus on creating a healthy environment for our most precious resource—our children.
Many plastic products contain toxic chemicals that have negative impacts on human health.
Let’s reflect on who are the major users —If children came to mind, you are correct!—from eating utensils to toys. Since children’s bodies are in development and they are inherently small, tiny exposure to these toxins can have a big effect.
Babies and young children explore much of their world through their mouths. Baby bottles, sippy cups, teething rings, and most toys are made from plastic and many are made with Phthalates and Bisphenol A (BPA). These two toxins can mimic or suppress hormones (estrogen and testosterone) and may change normal development and growth.
This information is not intended to elicit a fear of all things made of plastic. That is, not all plastic products contain toxic chemicals. This is where being an educated consumer is your best defense in safe guarding your children and the children you provide care for.
Prior to purchasing an item that may contain a plastic component, take a moment and read the label. Phthalates are a versatile class of about 25 chemicals that are used to soften plastics, carry fragrances, and act as solvents and fixatives. The list of consumer items that contain Phthalates can be exhausting. (visit www.cehn.org/ehcc for more information)
Human exposure to Phthalates occurs through breathing (which we all do!), ingestion by chewing on plastic toys creating small openings which may leach chemicals from the item to the child’s mouth—teething rings are specifically to be paced in a child’s mouth—alarming!?
If you are unable to exclusively use paper or glass in your everyday life, here are some recommendations that will make your life a bit safer when using plastics.
Choose toys that are not made from soft plastic vinyl or PVC—these may have a recycle indicator of #3 on the bottom.
- Do not microwave food in any type of plastic.
- Choose bottles or sippy cups that are not made out of hard clear polycarbonate plastic. Look for BPA FREE.
- Many plastic products have a recycling code which can be found on the bottom of the product. This number in the code indicates the type of plastic. Avoid plastics with recycling code #3, #6, and #7.
- When mixing formula, heat the water before mixing; when warming breast milk use a glass bottle.
- Use PVC-free plastic wrap.
- Minimize use of canned foods and canned drinks—many are lined with BPA.
- Discard plastic food containers with scratches—especially baby bottles, sippy cups, and infant feeding plates and cups.
- Purchase fragrance free and Phthalate free beauty products.
- Ask your dentist for BPA Free sealants ad composite fillings.
Right about now, after reading this, you are probably thinking where is the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency)?!
Great question and as you will see, the answer is not very reassuring.
Since the mid-1900’s, production of chemicals has substantially increased. (remember the phrase—”For a better tomorrow”)
Thousands of new chemicals have been introduced since World War II. On the whole, little is known about the health effects on humans, especially children. Studies have found two things: many of these chemicals pose a danger to human health and chemicals are found everywhere. (pretty basic thinking)
The primary federal law regulating chemicals is the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act. Of the 81,600 chemicals registered in the U.S. 62,00 were already in production when TSCA was implemented. These substances are considered to be safe unless the EPA can demonstrate that they present an “unreasonable” risk to human health or the environment. In addition to health risk, the EPA considers what the economic costs of banning, limiting, or phasing out a chemical would be. As of 2005, the EPA has performed internal reviews of only an estimated 2% of the 62,000 TSCA pre-1979 chemicals. *
For more information about environmental health and ways to create healthier environments for children and to ensure that our living spaces are safe for all, please visit www.cehn.org/ehcc. Join the movement!
*United States Government Accountability Office, (2005). Chemical Regulation: Options Exist to Improve EPA’s Ability to Assess Health Risks and Manage Its Chemical Review Program. GAO-05-458. Retrieved August 21, 2008, from http://www.gao.gov/new.items/do5458.pdf