The Harmful Truth About Plastics: A Guide to EDCs in Plastics and Their Health Effects

This is a summary of the Endocrine Society’s report on plastics and their implications for our health. Download and read the full report here: EDC Guide 2020

The Harmful Truth About Plastics: A Guide to EDCs in Plastics and Their Health Effects

Plastics are all around us – in our homes, our cars, our clothes, our food packaging. But how safe are they really? This report from the Endocrine Society and IPEN reveals the truth about the harmful chemicals in plastics and their impacts on human health. Here’s what you need to know:

What’s the Deal with Plastics?

  • Plastics production has skyrocketed globally, from 50 million tons in the 1970s to over 350 million tons today. It’s projected to double by 2030.
  • Most plastics are made from petrochemicals like ethylene and propylene. Many contain hazardous additives like bisphenols, phthalates, and flame retardants.
  • Almost 80% of plastics become waste, ending up in landfills or the environment. As plastics break down, these additives are released.

The Role of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs)

  • EDCs interfere with our hormones and are linked to major health issues like infertility, cancer, diabetes, and neurological disorders.
  • EDCs can cause multigenerational effects, altering DNA and leading to disease in subsequent generations.
  • Fetuses and infants are especially vulnerable to EDCs since this is when key development occurs.

Major EDCs in Plastics

  • Bisphenols: Used in polycarbonate plastics and food can linings, these mimic estrogen. Effects include reproductive disorders, obesity, and neurobehavioral problems.
  • Phthalates: Added to PVC to make it flexible, these EDCs reduce testosterone and have been linked to reproductive issues in both males and females.
  • Flame retardants: These migrate out of furniture foam and electronics. They disrupt thyroid and reproductive hormones and are linked to reduced IQ in children.
  • UV stabilizers: Absorb UV light to protect plastics from degradation. Benzotriazoles are widespread stabilizers that have estrogenic effects.
  • Toxic metals like lead, cadmium, and tin: Used as plastic colorants, catalysts, or stabilizers. They have multigenerational effects and mimic estrogen.
  • PFAS: Used as stain repellents on textiles and grease resistance in food packaging. These chemicals disrupt estrogen, metabolism and the immune system.

Reducing Your Exposure

The report authors recommend reducing plastic use and exposure wherever possible. Tips include:

  • Choose fresh foods over canned and avoid handling receipts printed on thermal paper
  • Don’t microwave food in plastic containers
  • Use alternatives like paper or glass food storage containers
  • Support bans on single-use plastics

The scientific evidence on EDCs is substantial enough to warrant policies that phase out and restrict their use. This will reduce human exposure and safeguard health, especially for vulnerable populations like children. While individual actions help, addressing this global plastic crisis requires a coordinated international effort between scientists, governments, manufacturers and consumers.

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