Plastics food packaging and plastic items are all around us.
Robina 7 Day Doctors and Acupuncture recommend this video on plastics and safety:
We drink from plastic bottles, we purchase food in tins which are lined with plastic to stop metal leeching out, and even if we buy fresh food, chances are we carry it home in a plastic bag.
On top of that there’s all the plastic we’re exposed to via cleaning products like shampoos and the many plastic products we have in our homes.
However, some of the chemicals used in plastics have been linked to a range of health issues including cancer, obesity and problems with the development of the foetus in the womb.
So, should we worry about the effects of plastics on our health?
Dr Nick Plant from the University of Surrey sits on the Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment (COT), an independent body that advises the Food Standards Agency.
Dr Plant says that the Committee regularly look at the data and determine what levels of various chemicals are safe. They also review this information in the light of the latest scientific evidence and issue new guidance when required. Good examples of this are the revised tolerable daily intake levels of BPA set by the European Food Standards Agency in 2016 and the EU’s banning of the use of phthalates in children’s toys.
Lots of work goes into determining tolerable daily intakes. First, computer analyses, cell analyses and animal studies are used to determine the maximum level of any chemical that produces no adverse effects. This dose is then divided by 100 to give a tolerable daily intake (TDI). Because exposure to plastics can come from anything from food to footwear the Committee look at all possible sources we may be exposed to when they determine how much of each chemical it is acceptable to have in particular products.
Dr Plant acknowledges that chemicals like phthalates have been shown in high doses to have impacts on the endocrine system (the parts of the body that produce hormones) but he points to the fact that the amounts that humans are exposed to have not been proven to cause harm and that the human body can handle subtle fluctuations in hormone levels.
He also acknowledges that one unknown is how different chemicals from plastics interact with each other – often referred to as “The Cocktail Effect”. However some combinations have been studied and these are used to model other chemicals where possible to determine the various safe levels.
Dr Plant welcomes the fact that the public often put pressure on regulators to look at potential concerns surrounding the chemicals in plastics. However, he feels that at the moment many of the studies that suggest these chemicals are causing us health problems aren’t clear enough. This is because they are based on epidemiological studies (population studies that analyse patterns and factors affecting health) where there can be lots of factors at play. For instance, exposure to plastics chemicals is closely related to diet, in particular to the consumption of less healthy processed food, so there is some difficulty in determining whether any health problems that emerge are related to chemicals or to a less healthy diet in general. What’s more, as almost everyone has some level of chemical exposure, it is impossible for studies in this field to have a control group.