Concerns about Recycling & Plastic
Dr. David Olarsch
Why recycling is not the best thing and how some outrageous chemicals are making it into our body without any government oversight.
I recently saw an article entitled "Not all plastics are safe to reuse" and that spurred me to write about the subject of recycling. We are inundated with reminders of how wonderful it is to recycle, as it will somehow relieve our guilt about all the excess packaging, trash and waste we Americans generate.
Remember that there are three R's in the recycling symbol: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Recycling is last for a good reason—it should be our last resort. When you see a product that has wasteful packaging, write letters, emails or call the company hotline to complain about excess packaging. Send it back to them to make a statement. Just let them know we are conscious about the packaging and what it is doing to our landfills and natural resources. It takes a lot of oil (as in petroleum products), minerals (mined from the Earth), and trees to keep up with our outrageous consumption.
Someone once told me that if everyone in China and India woke up tomorrow and started to consume as we do, overnight there would be endless shortages of almost everything. Even a simple pen might be hard to come by! That put it into perspective for me. Just recently, we stopped using small plastic water bottles and switched to stainless steel or glass for our water needs. We also use the 5 gallon plastic water bottles to greatly reduce the use of plastic. That gets delivered to the office monthly.
Back to that article that started me writing about all of this. It turns out that reusing some plastic containers can be very toxic. By now, most of us know to look for the triangle recycling symbol with a number in the middle, usually on the bottom of a container if you can squint enough to read it. Hey, here's an idea: if recycling is so important, why not put the symbol in a prominent location on the product so we can encourage recycling?!?! What we don't know is that some of these plastics, represented by various numbers, can be dangerous to our health.
Types 1, 2, 4 and 5 are generally safer than other types. Type 3, 6, 7 and PVC are not. They may create health problems you do not want. Hot liquids and scrubbing seem to activate the release of toxins for these plastics. It degrades the plastic, causing a release of it's toxic ingredients. PVC contains phthalates, which make the plastic flexible and are carcinogens. Carcinogens are agents known to cause or aggravate cancer. These are commonly used in plastic food wrap and shower curtains and labeled type 3. Styrene, used in type 6 plastic, polystyrene, is an endocrine disruptor and carcinogen. This is commonly called styrofoam. Type 7 contains the hormone disrupter bisphenol A. This is commonly found in rigid, clear plastic bottles.
While on this subject, I want to mention the coating inside some takeout containers is a chemical that is also used to make some non-stick pots and pans, and is also a known carcinogen. In fact, the workers that produce this stuff are coming down with some strange cancers. Our government is "investigating" this and has even issued some fines to the companies but most folks have still not read about this.
So, hot foods, hot liquids, scrubbing, microwaving, can cause plastic components to leach or flake off. To add insult to injury, small scrapes in plastic provide spaces where bacteria from food can thrive and multiply. What to do, you ask? Use glass, stainless steel or ceramic containers for your food storage.
In related news, our old poisonous friend, bisphenol A, which now has a nickname—BPA—has been found in more than 50% of canned foods. This industrial chemical has been linked to birth defects of the male and female reproductive systems, and other hormone problems. It is an ingredient in plastics and the epoxy resins that line food cans of baby formula, soda, fruits, vegetables, canned pasta and soups, beans and tuna fish. Yikes!
An alarming new study from the Environmental Working Group analyzed samples of canned fruit, vegetables, soda, and baby formula on sale in the nation's supermarkets and found that more than 50% were tainted with this chemical, BPA, linked to birth defects, ADHD and cancer. The study showed this chemical has been leaching into foods at levels up to 200 times the government's recommended "safe" level of exposure. According to Dr. Frederick vom Saal, a professor of biology at the University of Missouri-Columbia, and a long-time expert researcher of BPA, there are 94 scientific studies indicating deleterious health effects from BPA. "If BPA was treated as a drug, it would have been pulled immediately. This chemical can be replaced right now by safer materials, and the public would never notice the difference."
Low doses of BPA lead to a range of health problems and despite the growing evidence of risk to human health, there are no limits on the amount of BPA allowed in canned food. Here's the study of which containers BPA was found in: A Survey of Bisphenol A in U.S. Canned Foods
How to Avoid BPA
Metal canned beverages appear to contain less BPA residues, while metal canned pasta and soups contain the highest levels. Foods in glass containers are not a BPA risk. Plastics with the recycling labels #1, #2 and #4 on the bottom are safer choices and do not contain BPA. One third of liquid baby formulas have high levels of BPA. Powdered formula packaging is generally considered safer. Avoid heating foods in plastic containers and do not wash plastic containers in a dishwasher. When possible, opt for glass, porcelain and stainless steel containers, particularly for hot food or liquids. Do not let plastic wrap touch your food in the microwave, or better yet, avoid microwave ovens altogether.
Now, I have more cheery news. Another old "friend," Teflon and a related family of chemicals, are produced with a chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). Teflon has been raising some health concerns. and has been appearing in people and animals worldwide. One study showed that in 23 states, 96 percent of the 598 children tested had traces of the chemical in their blood.
According to scientists, the biggest source of PFOA is not Teflon manufacture, but telomers, which is a related family of chemicals. Telomers are also made by DuPont and are used to produce grease and stain-repellent coatings for take-out food boxes, carpets and clothing. PFOA is blamed for the following health problems:
• Children's health and development
• Risks of liver, pancreatic, testicular and mammary gland tumors
• Altered thyroid hormone regulation
• Damage to the immune system
• Reproductive problems and birth defects
For a great, easy to read article (and other good information), read Chemicals That Can Wreak Havoc With Your Hormones.
I hope this information has alerted you and that you take action. We have eliminated these products from our household and written to our representatives, the FDA and the companies that make and/or sell these poisons. Vote with your dollar and demand to be told the truth so you may make informed choices. Let me know of ways you have found to make your home and our planet healthier!
Dr. David Olarsch
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