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  • Is 'BPA-Free' Plastic Safe?

    An astonishing 92 percent of plastic products,including those labeled BPA-free, "readily leach chemicals having estrogenic activity," according to a study that offers a rare glimpse into the health dangers of household plastics.

    Why do you care? Estrogen-disrupting chemicals have been linked to birth defects, reproductive cancers, and behavioral and learning disorders. Guys, take note: plastics are a prime suspect in the 50 percent decline in sperm counts over the last 50 years. 

    The study was conducted by researchers at Georgetown University and PlastiPure, a Texas company that has developed a plastic it claims is safe. Eastman Chemical, a big corporation with a rival product, is suing PlastiPure in a trial going on now. (Eastman isn't arguing with the study's conclusions, but with PlastiPure's claim to have developed the only safe plastic.)

    One of the study's mind-blowing aspects is that so many household plastics share the characteristics of BPA. 

    "While the estrogenic chemical BPA is widely known by the public, it is less well known that thousands of other chemicals are suspected to have EA," PlastiPure said.

    The study's conclusions:

    1) Dishwashing, microwaving and sunlight increase the leaching.

    2) All categories of plastic products leach EA chemicals, including rigid food packaging, deli containers, flexible wrap and "BPA-free" baby bottles and water bottles.

    3) Industrial processes used to color, decorate or process plastic aggravate the leaching problem.

    4) Even plastics we are often told are safe, including polypropylene (PP) (recycling code #5), leached estrogen-mimicking chemicals. Some other culprits:

    • polyethylene terephthalate (PET). Recycling code #1. Used for soft drink bottles, peanut butter jars, sleeping bag padding.
    • polyethylene (PE) Recycling code #2. High-density polyethylene is used for milk bottles, butter tubs, detergent bottles.
    • polystyrene (PS). Recycling code #6. Used for foam products such as coffee cups, meat packaging trays, packing peanuts.

    The findings on BPA replacements were especially troubling, because they were found to be just as bad or worse.

    BPA is found in polycarbonate (PC) (#3), the use of which in baby bottles, sippy cups and water bottles ended several years ago due to a public outcry (BPA was never banned by the FDA, contrary to common belief.) The study found that "BPA-free" products now on the market -- terephthalate glycol (PETG) and polyethersulfone (PES) -- "often leached chemicals having EA levels equivalent to or above those found leaching from BPA-containing PC."

    Shockingly, EA leaching was found in sugar plastic (PLA) resins and products.

    The study seems to answer the questions many of us have been asking about BPA replacements and plastics in general. It was published in 2011, but I heard of it only this week.

    My conclusion: If you're worried about bad chemicals in your plastic, use glass!

    -- Laurel

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