Just one word: Plastics

From the marvel of the 20th century to environmental health public enemy #1: The rise and fall of plastic?

Mr. McGuire:
I want to say one word to you. Just one word.

Benjamin:
Yes, sir.

Mr. McGuire:
Are you listening?

Benjamin:
Yes, I am.

Mr. McGuire:
Plastics.

The above dialog is from the 1967 classic, "The Graduate," starring Dustin Hoffman as Benjamin.  40 years ago, plastics were "the word."  The future.  And it is now impossible to list the number of industries that depend on plastics, including health care.  From IV tubing to baby bottles, though, plastics are under attack.

The truth is that some plastics are better than others, both for the environment and for our health.  For those interested, look at the bottom of most household items made of plastic.  There’s a number in a triangular shape, usually 1 through 7.  According to The Green Guide, avoid #3, 6 and 7; #1 and 2 are considered safer.  Why?  Well, not all plastics are created equally.  We are learning more and more each day about the health detriments of plastic exposure. 

The dangers of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) have been known for some time.  Phthalates, the "plasticizer" in PVC, has been linked to asthma and other allergic disorders as well as endocrine disruption; PVC’s are suspected carcinogens, too.  Fortunately, Health Care Without Harm, the environmental supergroup, has been working with the health care industry to remove harmful PVC’s from products like IV tubing.

Bisphenol-A (BPA), a component of #7 plastics, is the subject of most recent concern for environmental health advocates.  Found in most baby bottles and canned formula, BPA has been linked to several health disorders.  A Federal investigative panel concluded recently that exposure to BPA has effects on neurobehavioral and endocrine development both in utero and after birth, in infants and children.  The panel’s report has been widely criticized as being not harsh enough, using terms like "some concern" or "minimal concern" for the above health effects.  To me, again, it comes down to whether or not you believe in the precautionary principle.  If you can’t assure safety within a reasonable degree, avoid use.  But alas, the plastics industries do not embrace the principle, and our federal government seems more interested in the bottom line than in our children’s health. 

Mr. Braddock:
Don’t you think that idea is a little half-baked?

Benjamin:
Oh no, Dad, it’s completely baked.

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PS To read more about one mom’s struggle with the BPA/baby bottle issue, go here.

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