One of our biggest concerns is the array of chemicals we are exposed to on a daily basis, much of it from the disposable packaging in which prepared foods and commercial beverages are provided. A recent interview on NPR’s Living on Earth featured Laura Vandenberg, a research fellow at Tufts’ Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology. She was discussing her new study looking at the harm to humans from endocrine disruptors, chemicals that mimic hormones within the human body. These chemicals include BPA (Bisphenol A) and phthalates. BPA is used in the epoxy lining of most canned products, whether soup, veggies or soda pop, while phthalates are found in certain plastics, like #1 PET and #3 PVC. Endocrine disrupting chemicals migrate from the packaging materials right into our food and drink. Ms. Vandenberg’s work shows that minute amounts of the chemicals – parts per billion, even parts per trillion, can have serious effects on the human body.
The chemistry and plastics industry have always insisted that the very low doses of chemicals that leach into edible products are not harmful to us. Indeed, the American Chemistry Council, a trade association for the U.S. plastics industry, has a website “FAQs: The Safety of Plastic Beverage Bottles” specifically intended to allay consumer fears. Not only does the site reassure us that the FDA strictly regulates food packaging for safety, but it also states that with regard to chemical leaching, a 1989 study (that would be 23 years ago now) found levels of chemical compounds in PET to be “well below applicable safety levels.”
Laura Vandenberg’s research has produced a starkly different finding. Her interview concludes with this “takeaway for the layperson”:
Chemicals that act like hormones are not safe at the doses that we are exposed to. There is no safe dose of a chemical that mimics a hormone.
As she wrote for Environmental Health News this week, “Academic, regulatory and industry scientists must work together to identify and replace such chemicals that are ubiquitous in everyday consumer products. Reducing and eventually eliminating these exposures is absolutely needed to protect human health. ”
We consumers can do our part, too, by avoiding canned goods and plastic-packaged foods and beverages. We can buy fresh foods and prepare them at home. We can favor non-leaching containers, such as glass and stainless steel. And we can push both corporations and the FDA to take action on these latest findings.