It’s in things you use every day, and it may be harming your health.
Plastic is a part of everyday life for most people. It can be found in everything from food packaging and cosmetics to toys.
Now, concerns are being raised that micro-sized particles of plastic small enough to be ingested are leeching into bottled water.
A recent study found that 93 percent of bottled water contained signs of contamination with microplastics.
The study examined 259 water bottles from 27 lots across 11 brands, purchased from 19 locations in nine countries.
The study is yet to be peer reviewed and didn’t examine whether microplastics impacted human health.
Nonetheless, the World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed to the BBC that they’ll conduct a review into the potential risks of plastic in drinking water.
More than just water
However, it’s not just bottled water that health experts are worried about.
A number of industrial and consumer products made of plastic contain endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), which can negatively impact human health.
“So many of our plastic products that come in contact with food and beverages are made with endocrine-disrupting chemicals that leech into the environment and end up in our bodies in measurable quantities,” Nancy Wayne, PhD, a professor of physiology and reproductive endocrinologist at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California at Los Angeles, told Healthline.
EDCs are chemicals found in a number of everyday products that can interfere with hormones. In recent years, public interest surrounding the possibility of health threats due to EDCs has risen.
Despite this, there’s yet to be a coordinated approach in the United States to regulating EDCs.
EDCs are used in the manufacturing of many plastics and other products. Even in low doses, they can lead to a number of abnormalities in the body.
“Bisphenol A or BPA is detected in over 90 percent of urine samples from thousands of humans tested. That means that it is in high enough amounts in blood that it spills into our urine prior to being fully metabolized. Animal studies show that low amounts of BPA, below that which the [Food and Drug Administration (FDA)] says is safe, leads to a host of abnormalities,” Wayne said.
Low doses of BPA can alter cellular function and activate genes that promote growth of cancers.
“Higher level of exposure to BPA in humans is associated with a host of health problems, including higher body fat in children, increased risk of miscarriages and premature birth, and increased incidence of prostate cancer. And that’s just one of many chemicals. Add in all the other endocrine-disrupting chemicals and toxins we are exposed to, and we have a big problem that is impacting everyone, no matter who you are, where you live, or what your socioeconomic status is,” she said.
Affecting future generations
A recent study by the Endocrine Society found that the impact of EDCs could extend beyond more than one generation by contributing to a significant drop in sperm count and sperm quality.
“Sperm counts among men have dropped substantially over the last few decades, but the reason for such an alarming phenomenon is not known. These results suggest that when a mother is exposed to an endocrine disruptor during pregnancy, her son and the son’s future generations may suffer from decreased fertility or hormone insufficiency,” said Radwa Barakat, BVSC, MSc, a lead author of the study, research PhD scholar, and member of the faculty at the College of Veterinary Medicine at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
The researchers studied the impact of DEHP, one of the EDCs commonly found in piping and tubing, cosmetics, toys, and medical devices.
Male mice exposed to DEHP prenatally had less testosterone in their blood and a lower sperm count. As a result, they lost fertility at a time when they should have been fertile.
Researchers said this suggests prenatal exposure to DEHP can impact both fertility and reproductive capacity of more than one generation.
How much harm?
Barry McIntyre, PhD, a group leader of the Developmental and Reproductive Toxicology Group at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, says a major challenge in research into EDCs is extrapolating data from animal studies to try and determine the potential risks for humans.
He says the extent of damage from EDCs can be dependent on a number of factors.
“The potential for harm from EDCs depends on what hormone pathway is impacted, the amount of exposure, and whether exposure occurs during a sensitive time of development like pregnancy or puberty,” McIntyre told Healthline.
|Ways to Reduce Plastics in Your Home|
|Limit purchasing foods and beverages in plastic or can packaging||Choose glass or ceramic|
|Do not store food in plastic containers||Do not heat food in plastic containers in the microwave|
Source: Nancy Wayne, University of California Los Angeles
According to the Endocrine Society, a growing body of evidence suggests traditional scientific methods for assessing the health impacts of chemicals is inadequate when assessing EDCs.
This, coupled with controversy surrounding the safe doses of various EDCs, has impacted the development of federal regulations and guidelines.
Wayne adds that although we may be years away from knowing the full extent of the impact of EDCs on human health, it’s not too early to act.
“We are at the beginning of understanding. And what we know from well-designed, well-executed studies is pretty frightening. We should do more to limit exposure to EDCs, including limiting the use of plastics in food and beverage packaging because of its impact on the health of the first generation exposed, let alone future generations — which will inevitably be directly exposed if nothing is done,” she said.