The Great Plastics Non-Debate

Here’s the thing. It takes a LOT of effort to do all the research that needs doing in order to get the REAL story on most things. And I usually just don’t have time. I just have time to know I’m not getting the whole story and to be skeptical when I hear blanket statements like, “PLASTICS HAVE BEEN LEAKING EVIL TOXINS INTO YOUR BODIES FOR YEARS EVEN THOUGH THE FDA SAYS THEY ARE PERFECTLY SAFE !!!”

OK, I admit I’m being a bit sensational. There is, after all, probably some truth somewhere to that statement and it is always good to question TheMan or whoever, but have you ever noticed how all the shocking revelations of consumer vulnerability come with more and more rules and regulations and the rights of someone (even Corporations are juristic people after all) being TAKEN AWAY? How often do our rights, once taken, ever get returned?

Do Laws ever get taken off the books? I mean, there are some crazy laws out there and, I don’t know about you, but although it’s probably a good thing that you could get into serious legal trouble if you are found driving with an uncaged bear in your car, if only in Missouri, I’m not sure I need a law to make that call for me or for you. And thank goodness I’m not a resident of Pittsburgh or I’d be doing life without parole for the amount of dirt under my rugs.

Whoops, I got off on a tangent before I even got started because my real issue with the question at hand – Are plastics that contain our food safe? – is that the information we are most likely to hear about it is BIASED or, at the very least, we are not given the full story by which to judge the true likelihood of its danger. I’m not arguing that there is nothing to the potential issue of plastics leaking toxins into our food. I took enough science (sans Creationism, thankfully) in school to think it plausible that changing its molecular state by freezing and microwaving it might make the argument quite plausible. What I’m arguing is that, like it or not, the responsibility of figuring out the truth about how serious an issue it really is falls on the you and I because 9 times out of 10 the information you are getting on it is biased.

We owe it to ourselves to know the bias behind our news so that our choices are truly OURS. TheGreatPlasticsNon-Debate is a prime example and qualifies as a post topic here because it is one of those hot button “mom issues” (think plastic baby bottles). You’ll find a lot out there about Bisphenol A (or BPA), a synthetic estrogen drug found to make a great plastic due to its durability. Known as polycarbonate in its hardened form, we come into contact with it everyday in our CDs, automotive parts, the resin lining applied to the insides of food and soft drink cans, toys, microwave ovenware and in many #7 polycarbonate bottles (including baby bottles, as noted above).

A friend sent me a link to The Green Guide which states the following about BPA/Polycarbonate:

Many studies have found that BPA interferes with hormones, as phthalates do, and a March 1998 study in Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP) found that BPA simulates the action of estrogen when tested in human breast cancer cells.

A growing number of scientists are concluding, from animal tests, that exposure to BPA in the womb raises the risk of certain cancers, hampers fertility and could contribute to childhood behavioral problems such as hyperactivity. A January 2006 EHP study on mice indicated that BPA alters the function of mouse pancreatic cells, which produce insulin, suggesting that the chemical may enhance the risk of developing Type II diabetes. Finally, an early 2007 study on BPA in rats found that it led to increased growth, suggesting that the chemical might trigger obesity.

But that’s all it says about BPA, even though that’s hardly all there is to say. It completely neglects to mention that the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), in an attempt to sort out the “truth” from the results of over 150 government funded experiments exploring the health effects of BPA, discarded many of the studies that indicated danger from the chemical, but accepted most of the industry-sponsored studies that showed no potential for harm in their initial review. The reason behind this? The studies showing BPA as harmful used the wrong method to deliver the chemical to lab rats. Instead of feeding BPA to rats by mouth (as the industry studies did) and in the same way humans would come in contact with the chemical, BPA was injected directly into the rats’ blood.

As reported on in this article, the panel of government reviewers noted, “‘We don’t inject BPA . . . we swallow little bits of it as molecules detach from the plastic in food and drink containers.’ The “pathway” of exposure makes a difference. When we eat it, our metabolism breaks down and excretes a lot of it. That doesn’t happen as readily if the chemical is shot directly into the bloodstream.” The NIEHS thus far has concluded that “there is ‘some concern’ that exposure to BPA in the womb causes neural and behavioural changes, but only ‘minimal’ or ‘negligible’ concern about other possible health damage.”

Gail Wood, a spokeswoman for Mead Johnson Nutritionals, a division of Bristol-Myers Squibb Company that manufactures baby formula, in the same article cited above, makes the following points on behalf of BPA-based plastics, specifically the resin liners applied to the insides of food and soft drink cans:

  • Trusted in the industry for over 60 years.
  • They are the “absolute best” at keeping product fresh and contaminants out of whatever food product is canned.
  • Have been proven “time and time again” by leading government testing authorities (in Japan, Europe and the U.S.) to be safe.
  • Although there are substitutes (other epoxies), there is nothing better. With BPA resins, the risks are so low, and their efficacy is so high, “they are by far the best possible packaging component to use for a myriad of applications.”
  • Using unlined metal would be much more dangerous. “There is a significant leaching problem with those metals and alloys.” Traces of nickel, aluminum or other toxic metals could leach out of the can, contaminating the food.
  • Resin linings also seal out bacteria, moisture and oxygen (which spoil food).
  • They are flexible, so the lining stays intact if something dents the can.

Her final thoughts on the debate: “The key take-away is that there probably are alternatives – not as good – and every alternative is going to have its inherent risks and benefits. . . I wish people who were scaring consumers would present more of a balanced story.”

I completely agree. Had they, I wouldn’t have had to spend all this time on a rant about TheGreatPlasticsNon-Debate! I wish there was a site like Truth or Fiction, Hoax-Slayer, or Snopes that I could go to quickly to find out not only if I’ve really gotten cancer from my optical mouse as that recently forwarded email suggests but what’s the FULL story on sensationalized topics like harmful plastics that may not be, scarce landfill space that’s not, and global warming that may not be because of us (inconvenient as that truth may be).

Why, by George, I think I’ve found my site! If you took the trip on the last two links, you found The Straight Dope. I bet Cecil can do a better job than I presenting the real deal on TheGreatPlasticNon-Debate. Think I should ask him? Probably, since I haven’t even started in on Phthalates yet. Lucky for you, I’m not going to either because I’ve proven my point, if only to myself, that there was, in fact, more to the story on those “harmful plastics” and right now my limited research has reassured me that not only did I not harm Clara by heating her formula, I can continue to heat my plastic bowls and plates (as long as they say “microwave and dishwasher safe”), freeze my water bottles, and eat my Spaghettios cold, straight from the can.

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