BPA and Phthalates and PVC’s, Oh My

There’s a growing recognition that environmental plastic exposures may be linked to numerous 21st century health concerns..  We’re all going to need some serious courage to deal with this mess.

The plastics industry is beginning to sound a bit Wizard-of-Oz’ish to me.  "Pay no attention" is the mantra, despite mounting evidence that 1) toxic plasticizers are finding their way into formula and other infant products at alarming amounts and 2) the health effects of these chemicals may be worse and more widespread than we previously thought. 

I’ve written about bisphenol A (BPA) and the plastics issue previously, for those that want a primer.  A new report in Pediatrics details the widespread exposure of babies to phthalates, a toxic plasticizer connected with cancer and hormonal disturbances.  This news follows a report from the Environmental Working Group that BPA is leaching readily into baby formula from the cans it’s stored in.  And then heating the formula up in plastic baby bottles (as many parents do – either in the microwave or in boiling water – greatly increases the amount of BPA that leaches in.  What’s the big deal?  Well, BPA is increasingly recognized as an endocrine disrupting toxin.  Rising incidence of precocious puberty?  Could be linked to the increased use of plasticizers in our products and in our food, water, and air.  If that’s not bad enough, the most recent discovery is that prenatal exposure to BPA may be linked to adult hormonal cancers, like breast and prostate cancers.  This is the so-called epigenetic phenomenon, whereby prenatal environmental exposures alter DNA and genetic expression, leading to a vicious cycle that can be passed on and amplified over generations.  Nature and nurture, in action.  More research into fetal origins of adult disease is needed, and it makes sense to me to take a precautionary view and do our best to eliminate exposures prenatally and in infancy.

What are our options?  Glass bottles, safer (if possible) plastics.  Newsweek recently profiled parents making these choices.  The ugly end-game is, potentially, a scene straight out of the P.D. James book (and Alfonso Cuaron film) "Children of Men": An infertile world without children.  Think that’s far-fetched?  Read this report on dwindling boy:girl birth ratios in the Arctic, a true canary-in-the-coal mine scenario.  It’s really time to get informed, raise awareness, and start putting pressure on industries (health care included!) to reduce plastics use and come up with alternatives that are safer for both our children and our planet.

Or you can just close your eyes, click your heels, and hope for the best.

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