Three Quarters of Everyday Plastic Products are Toxic, Says Study

Everything from yogurt cups to sponges are affected
set of baby cups bowls Forks and Spoons

You rely on plastic products every day, whether it's for food, medication or personal hygiene products. But should you? In a recent scientific study, 74 percent of plastic household items were found to contain toxic chemicals, adding to the mounting pile of evidence that some plastics may pose a risk to your health.

Scientists examined yogurt cups, bath sponges and other household items for the study, which was published in the Environmental Science and Technology journal, by exposing them to cultures of cells.

In addition to 74 percent testing positive as toxic, 30 percent had chemicals that could disrupt the endocrine system, which controls gland function and the metabolism. 27 percent tested positive for chemicals that can block testosterone production, possibly interfering with puberty or sexual functions, while 12 percent tested positive for chemicals that stimulate estrogen, which can cause early puberty for women, reduced sperm counts and obesity.

The biggest offenders were products made with polyvinyl chloride (PVC), often used for plastic bottles and food trays, and polyurethane, used for spandex clothing, foams, surface coatings and other products. Researchers also stressed that consumers should avoid products that could contain unknown compounds.

While the toxic chemicals in these plastics are in quantities so small that scientists cannot say if they will affect your health, it still should be a concern to health-conscious consumers.

"Such chemicals simply shouldn't be in plastics in the first place," said Martin Wagner, senior author of the new study and a biologist at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. "The problem is that plastics are made of a complex chemical cocktail, so we often don't know exactly what substances are in the products we use. For most of the thousands of chemicals, we have no way to tell whether they are safe or not."

What can you do about it?

Despite the discouraging news, not all plastics were toxic—and the study's authors urged customers to research their products, buy ones that are better for them, and demand that stores and manufacturers only sell non-toxic plastic products.

Overall, the study found that plastics made with polyethylene terephthalate and high-density polyethylene were rated less toxic than others. But surprisingly, options that were considered "greener," like bioplastics made from renewable biomass sources, still tested positive for toxicity when made with polylactic acid (PLA).

When shopping, look for the following:

  • Products made with #1 or #2 plastic, which have less toxic chemicals
  • Fresh, unpackaged produce, and goods stored in paper or glass containers will reduce your exposure to plastics.
  • Look for plastic products labeled BPA, paraben and phthalate-free to avoid plastics that may over time release chemicals into the environment.

Dr. Mary Ann Block, medical director of an international clinic for the treatment of chronic health problems in Fort Worth, Texas, agreed that the study raises serious concerns.

"All plastic is toxic and should not be consumed. Knowing what plastic is made from, as mentioned in the article, should concern everyone," Dr. Block said. "Plastic products that are not consumed and not used in the packaging of food or water should not be directly harmful. However, when those plastic items are disposed of they can be a problem as part of the soil or groundwater."

To ensure your house is safe for you and the entire family, don't miss this essential list of 100 Ways Your Home Could be Making You Sick.

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