You may be careful to buy only BPA-free toys, pacifiers, clear wrap, travel mugs, and other plastics. Doing so is supposed to spare your family from hormone-disrupting chemicals. But these items still aren’t safe (if by safe you mean products that don’t leach other hormone-disrupting chemicals). A new study indicates that nearly every plastic product (including BPA-free) is made up of chemicals that stimulate estrogenic activity (EA) in human cells.
Estrogen made by our bodies in the right quantities at the right time is a good thing. But chemicals with EA have been linked to a whole slew of frightening problems like increased rates of reproductive cancers, premature puberty in girls, lowered sperm counts, obesity, and more.
To perform the study, University of Texas researchers purchased 455 widely available plastic products. Although most were labeled “BPA-free” it wasn’t possible to determine exactly what chemicals they contained. Apparently this is proprietary information closely guarded by industry. To determine if the products had estrogenic effects, researchers exposed extracted versions to solvents meant to mimic food and beverage items these plastics were likely to contain. Then, they exposed these extracts to a type of human breast cancer cell that’s highly receptive to estrogen. Cells that multiplied in the presence of plastic extracts indicated that those particular chemicals were estrogenic.
The results? Nearly every plastic product they tested leached EA chemicals. Some BPA-free products actually released more EA than other plastics. That included eco-friendly plastics made from plant products, which apparently released EA due to the additives used.
In addition, the researchers checked the effect of sunlight, microwave use, and dishwasher use on the products being studied. They determined plastics leach more EA after these ordinary stressors.
Before you restrict your kids to toys made of cloth, wood, and metal you’ll probably want to decide for yourself whether plastics are truly evil or a risk worth taking. Check out these and other resources, and let us know what you think.