Plastic additives – do they affect human health?

A study by T.S Galloway et al published this year suggests that the environment (while important enough) is not the only thing to suffer from plastic packaging. Plastics have their uses but as a society, we have overdosed on them, especially single-use ones. They are now used as food and drink containers but also within other consumer items and even medical devices.

Concern has been raised by scientists about the potential of additive substances, including chemicals, to migrate from packaging into the human body.

There is a widespread impact on the environment that we should now be aware of, especially for single-use plastics. Floating garbage patches, littered beaches, entangled and suffocated animals and zooplankton ingesting plastic particles is contributing to public awareness. Many single-use plastics, such as plastic bags, are used for about 20 minutes on average before being discarded. Many more people are now concerned and indeed taking action to reduce the impact of single-use plastic on the environment.

However, we hear less about the impact on our health. When I recently visited Prof Lorna Harries at Exeter University with Bude’s Animal Free Research group, the impact of plastics on health was mentioned. It was Prof Harries who drew my attention to this piece of research. The jury may be out but I’m tempted to err on the side of caution.

Could it be that we ingest plastics in food and drink, and do the additives, through plastic containers, go into our skin or airways? It’s not easy to assess. Without being too scientific in my brief write up, there are issues:

  1. Breakdown of polymers(see BPA below) is likely to be caused by heat and UV light. Prof Harries mentioned she never drinks from a plastic water bottle left in a hot car, for example.
  2. Migration of substances may be within migratory limits but does that make them safe?
  3. Central to human health is knowing what chemicals and plastics are actually getting into people which requires serious biomonitoring.

The research concludes that increased exposure to Bisphenol A or BPA (an industrial chemical that has been used to make certain plastics and resins since the 1960s) is associated with increased levels of cardiovascular disease but it is difficult to remove other variables.

There is no certainty, but to be on the safe side, we can help ourselves by avoiding plastic packaging in foods, such as microwave ready-meals and single-use plastic bottles.

As this is also good for the environment, it’s something of a no-brainer.

 

Image by Darko Djurin from Pixabay

 

 

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