Your Cling Wrap Could Be Leaching Chemicals
From: Robina Suwol
Date: 08 Sep 2003
Remote Name: 184.108.40.206
YOUR CLING WRAP COULD BE LEACHING CHEMICALS
By Melissa Knopper, E Magazine, Sept - Oct 2003
Open the refrigerator in a typical American home and you'll find milk,
orange juice and plenty of plastic. Every day, we reach for individually
wrapped cheese slices, dip spoons into plastic yogurt cups and offer babies
sips of milk from plastic bottles.
If used with common sense, plastics and food can be a safe combination,
experts say. But certain types of plastic are made with chemicals that may
cause health problems if they leach into food. For example, meat defrosting in
the microwave could pick up chemicals from a styrofoam tray that starts to
melt from the high heat.
BEWARE OF PLASTICIZERS
In general, the more flexible the plastic, the more likely it is to contain
plasticizers called phthalates, which make it more pliable. While some
phthalates are harmless, others may cause cancer. Clear rigid plastic made of
polycarbonate (used to make baby bottles) also may leak the hormone-disrupting
chemical bisphenol A.
So think twice before heating that takeout container in the microwave, says
Suzanne Snedeker, associate director of the Breast Cancer and Environmental
Risk Factors (BCERF) Program at Cornell University. Plasticizers can leach
into food at high temperatures, Snedeker explains. "Some plasticizers can
mimic the effects of certain hormones - they're chemical messengers in the
body," she says.
Bisphenol A, used in rigid polycarbonate plastics, mimics estrogen, which is
known to affect breast cancer risk. Bisphenol A is also found in plastic
cutlery, water bottles, tooth fillings and the plastic coating inside canned
fruits and vegetables. Animal experiments have linked bishphenol A to an
increased risk for breast and prostate cancer, low sperm counts and female
infertility at very low levels of exposure.
Environmental health advocates from Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the
National Environmental Trust are calling on the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) to keep chemicals like bisphenol A out of food
containers, particularly baby bottles. Environmental groups also want the FDA
to require companies to disclose the use of phthalates and compounds that
mimic hormones on plastic container labels.
"We should be attempting to minimize our exposure to these things," says Tom
Natan, a toxicologist and research director of the National Environmental
Trust. "In order to do that, we have to know they are there."
So far, the FDA and representatives from the plastics industry have resisted
these requests, arguing compounds like bisphenol A do not leach out of plastic
containers at high-enough levels to pose any health threat. "We did a ton of
testing and supplied our results to the FDA," says Jerome Heckman, general
counsel for the Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI). "They are satisfied it
is not a problem."
But other scientists and environmental groups say the FDA needs to take a
closer look at bisphenol A. For example, Frederick vomSaal, a University of
Missouri biologist, says the FDA should use independent studies instead of
industry data for its analysis of the health risks associated with bisphenol
Data from bisphenol A animal studies are significant, vomSaal says. So far,
about 50 research papers have shown harmful effects-everything from an
increased risk for diabetes to deformed genitals in males. "It has been shown
in birds, mammals, frogs, fish, flies and snails," vomSaal says. "The
reproductive system of every type of animal is damaged by this chemical in
incredibly similar ways."
The FDA has not yet required labels on plastic containers, but some
companies are taking steps to reassure customers their products are safe. For
example, the Clorox Company, which makes Glad cling wrap and plastic
containers, says none of its products contain harmful phthalates. Instead, the
company uses a safer type of plastic- polyethylene - that does not require
additives for flexibility.
Clorox spokesperson Jennifer Barnhart says consumers are too quick to assume
all plastic wrap brands are identical. And contrary to an incorrect email that
has been circulating, she says, cling wraps do not leach dioxin. "The bottom
line is not all plastics are the same,"
Another popular brand, Saran Original, contains chlorine and plasticizers,
but not phthalates, according to manufacturer S.C. Johnson & Sons. The company
points to a Harvard research study that shows the plasticizer used - acetyl
tributyl citrate (ATBC) - does not cause any health problems.
Gerber executives did not respond to questions about the contents of their
plastic baby bottles. A call to its consumer hotline reveals that its clear
plastic bottles are made of polycarbonate. A customer service employee said
the company will not take them off the market or mention polycarbonate on the
label until the FDA requires it.
Due to negative publicity about phthalates, plastic wrap manufacturers are
now using a new class of plasticizers called adipates, says Ted Schettler,
science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network. "We don't
know as much about adipates as we do about phthalates because they haven't
been studied as carefully yet," Schettler says.
Until scientists, industry and government regulators settle their debates
over the issue, and until manufacturers start including ingredients on their
labels, shoppers will be left in the dark about plastic food products,
Schettler says. To help consumers make safe decisions, Schettler and other
environmental health experts shared these common-sense tips:
Only buy plastic wrap labeled "microwave safe" and keep it an inch or two
above food when heating. In general, wraps made of polyethylene are safer than
polyvinyl chloride (PVC) film.
Use non-plastic coverings to prevent splattering, such as a glass or ceramic
lid, wax paper or a cloth napkin.
Flexible margarine tubs or whipped topping containers will warp or melt and
leach chemicals in the microwave. Only use plastic containers labeled
"microwave safe." Avoid PVC containers marked with the #3. Polycarbonate
containers are marked with #7. Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) #1,
polypropylene #5 and high density polyethylene (HPDE) #2 are less likely to
have harmful additives.
Opt for glass or ceramic bowls and plates designed for microwave use instead
of plastic containers.
Call the manufacturer to find out if your clear, hard plastic baby bottles
are made of polycarbonate. If they have been repeatedly boiled or washed in
the dishwasher more than 20 times, or are badly scratched, throw them out.
Do not put polycarbonate bottles in the microwave to warm milk or formula,
as this could cause bisphenol A to leak into the liquid.
To be safe, trade polycarbonate bottles for colored or opaque bottles made
of safer plastics such as polyethylene. Evenflo also makes shatter-resistant
glass baby bottles. With all of the uncertainty surrounding the safety of
plastic containers, some consumers feel they are better off avoiding them.
"Most people feel if a product is on the shelf it has been thoroughly
tested-but that simply is not the case," Schettler says. "Given that political
reality, why not try to find safer alternatives?"
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Melissa Knopper is a Colorado-based freelance writer.
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California Safe Schools
Last changed: March 14, 2006