Food packaging has the potential to cause acne, cancer, low birth weight, low sperm count, hormonal imbalances, weight gain, and respiratory problems. Some of the chemicals that have the potential to cause these problems include BPA, phthalates, and PCBs. Many canned and plastic-wrapped foods contain BPA, PCBs can be found in farm-raised salmon and freshwater fish, and phthalates can cross the placenta and can be found in human breast milk.
Phthalates are chemical plasticizers and have been used since the 1950s to soften plastics. These chemicals are then leached into foods, liquids, air, and skin because they are not bound to the plastics they are in. They are also found in lotions and fragrance. Phthalates decrease sperm count and associated with asthma, wheezing, hay fever, and rhinitis in adults.
BPA (bisphenol A) is an industrial chemical used to make certain plastics and has been used since the 1960s. BPA is found in old Nalgene bottles, plastic drink bottles, liners of beverage and food cans. These chemicals than seep into the food or beverage. Low dose exposure to this chemical causes increased prostate size and decreased sperm production and is an estrogen receptor agonist. In addition, there is some “concern for effects on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and children at current human exposures” (Birnbaum et al., 2013). BPA exposure is widespread with detectable levels greater than 90% of the U.S. population. Studies indicate that diet is likely to be a major source of exposure for BPA.
PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) are used in transformers and capacitors that can be used for 30 or more years. Old fluorescent lighting and old electrical devices and appliance give off PCBs when they become hot. They can be breathed in the air and enter the lungs and blood stream. PCBs are linked to increased risk of non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, neurological disorders and cognitive deficits in children. In addition, they are harmful to the reproductive system, immune system and are a known endocrine disruptor.
So, what can be done to combat these chemicals? Use glass or stainless steel products, look for phthalate free bottles, look for plastics labeled #1, 2, 4, or 5 as they are considered safer, don’t microwave food in plastic, and choose fresh foods most of the time.
Birnbaum, L. S., Aungust, J., Goodman, J.L. (2013). Working Together: Research and Science-
Based Regulation of BPA. Environmental Health Perspective, 121(7):a206-a207.
Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3702012