Plastics, Endometriosis, and You
It's amazing to think plastics haven't been around for that long since they're E-V-E-R-Y-W-H-E-R-E. Even on the moon. They're cheap, durable, lightweight, and therefor perfect for all our consumer needs, and their use in our daily lives has become incredibly normalized. It wasn't that long ago we bought everything in glass bottles, even brought our own to stores or merchants to swap out. Even today, when I lived in Senegal you would buy soda in glass bottles at any vendor in any village and would bring it back so it could be refilled by the soda company.
Okay, back to the now, with plastics everywhere. In addition to packaged items you might find them in your home in the form of chairs, tables, plates, silverware, tupperware, storage boxes, pens, and on and on and on. I don't know how you can honestly avoid them all, but you can definitely make an impact where it counts: in your kitchen. Simple replacements of tupperware, cups, eating utensils, cooking utensils, plates, and cups can significantly impact you health by limiting your direct exposure to and consumption of dioxins, phthlates, and BPA (including BPA free)
Plastic Problem #1: Dioxins
Dioxins belong to a class of 75 chemicals with similar properties; the most toxic is 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD). Dioxins are known to cause cancer, immune suppression, and birth defects in animals. They can act as endocrine disruptors, which means that they have the ability to mimic or block hormones in the body. In the early 1990s, the Endometriosis Association found that 79% of a group of monkeys developed endometriosis after being exposed to TCDD dioxin in food during a research study. The severity of endometriosis found in the monkeys was directly related to the amount of TCDD to which they had been exposed. In addition, the dioxin-exposed monkeys showed immune abnormalities similar to those observed in women with endo.
The main sources of dioxins are municipal waste incineration, metal smelting, medical waste incineration, chemical and plastic manufacturing, and pulp/paper bleaching. Dioxins can travel long distances in the atmosphere via air currents. Rain, snow and dust carry it to the ground, and it eventually enters the food chain when animals, such as cattle, graze on the dioxin-contaminated crops.According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, over 90% of our exposure to dioxins is through food, with major sources including beef, dairy products, milk, chicken, pork, fish and eggs. Dioxins are also passed from mother to developing infant across the placenta and through breastfeeding.
Dioxins and related compounds are highly persistent in the environment and in living organisms. It is believed that almost all living beings on earth have dioxin-like compounds in their body tissue. No amount of dioxin exposure can be considered safe, as very small amounts have been associated with impaired development, reproduction, neurological, and immune function. The EPA’s most recent report concluded that the cancer risk to the general population from dioxin is now as high as one in one hundred people. Dioxin is one of the most toxic chemicals known to humankind.
PVC is toxic at every stage of its lifecycle. When manufactured or burned, dioxin is created. Dioxin is known to disrupt the hormonal and immune systems.
Plastic Problem #2: Phthalates
PVC requires the use of more chemical additives than any other common plastic. PVC products always contain additives because, by itself, PVC is a very rigid, non-flexible material. To make PVC soft and flexible (for IV bags or gloves, for example) additives such as phthalates (pronounced “thal-ates”) are used. However, because they are not chemically bonded to the PVC itself, they can run off or leach from the PVC plastic. One of the widely used phthalates in PVC products is di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP), a toxic chemical that has been associated with damage to the heart, liver, ovaries, testes, lungs and kidneys. DEHP in medical equipment like IV (intravenous) bags is especially concerning due to the possible leaching of DEHP into the body. Women with endometriosis may fall into a higher-risk category for DEHP exposure because they often undergo numerous medical procedures during their reproductive years. Phthalates in children’s toys, such as teethers, can leach into their mouths. The European Union has lead the way by banning phthalates in soft toys for children under the age of three.
Another example of exposure to phthalates and harmful plasticizers is through food wrapped in PVC cling wrap. Many meats, cheeses and other foods sold in delis and grocery stores are wrapped in PVC. Scientists have found evidence of toxic additives migrating into the food.
In addition to phthalates, other harmful additives like nonyl phenol, organotins, cadmium, and lead are often used in PVC. Many of these additives, such as nonyl phenol, disrupt hormonal systems. Lead is known to cause brain and nervous system damage, convulsions, coma, fatigue, mental retardation, hyperactivity, and reproductive problems.
Plastic Problem #3: BPA, and BPA Free is no Better
After the huge consumer outcry against BPA (bisphenol A) in plastic, many companies removed this awful, endocrine disrupting chemical. Instead they replaced with with BPS, a proven safe alternative ... wait, what? Not proven safe? Oh no, here we go again. Yup, turns out BPS was another chemical assumed safe until proven guilty, meaning there was really no safety tests done. Now there are, and it's pretty frightening to see BPS affecting living organisms just the same as BPA.
"In a 2013 study, Texas researchers found that as little as one part per trillion of BPS could interfere with the normal functioning of a cell, in some cases leading to cell death. Another study of zebrafish, out of Canada, found BPA accelerated neural cell growth by 180% for fish exposed to extremely low levels; it was even worse for BPS -- neural growth exploded 240%. As adults, the fish exposed to both chemicals showed significant signs of hyperactivity." (cnn.com)
The end result? BPA Free is no safer than plastics with BPA, so don't be fooled by these false claims of safety.
Action Steps to Decrease Your Plastic Burden
Do an evaluation of your home and replace plastic products that you touch or eat off of with safer materials such as glass, ceramic, and stainless steel. Think especially about everything in your kitchen - tupperware, silverware, spatulas and cooking utensils, cups, etc
Minimize your plastic purchases. Yes they're often cheaper, but you now know the price you and the environment pays.
Don't drink out of plastic water bottles or use a plastic water filter. Opt for a sink installed filter instead (usually start around $100 for a decent one, and should last you!)
Avoid the use of PVC/vinyl construction products (i.e. pipes, floors, shelves) when building or remodeling your home.
If you have to buy plastic, try to find #1 and #2. They are less-toxic and usually easier to recycle (on Kaua`i we only recycle #1 and #2, all the rest has to sadly go to the dump)
Find a comprehensive list of alternatives at www.aaa.dk/pvc.
If you want to get active, write a letter to the government agency that regulates the safety of medical products in your country.
Keep in mind that personal exposure to dioxin also comes through factory farmed animal fats such as beef, cheese, eggs, etc. This brings home the importance of organic and - much preferably - pastured, grass-fed animal products..