10.20.2006

Plastic and other endocrine disruptors, or, the toxins in your neighborhood

I used to think these railing-against-plastics kinds of people were a bit crazy, but then I read about it in the New York Times ("Preschool Puberty, and a Search for the Causes"), and if the New York Times says it, it must be true. (Note that this particular article is mostly not about plastic, but reading it reminded me that I once idly wondered if I should worry about plastic. The movie Blue Vinyl, which I saw about three years ago, certainly convinced me that vinyl is bad, if nothing else.)

Okay, so the plastic scare might still be a little bit speculative, but if it's true, it's damn scary. Plastic is so ubiquitous that if it does cause problems, even if only from the runoff of plastic-manufacturing plants, we're in trouble.

Some scary excerpts from the New York Times article mentioned above:
In 1994, scientists found that estrogen-like chemicals from plastics manufacturing plants that had contaminated sewers in England caused genetically male fish to develop into females.
...
Robert Cooper, the chief of endocrinology at the reproductive toxicology division of the Environmental Protection Agency, says various sources of endocrine disruptors, like manufacturing chemicals, may be leaching into the environment. While their relation to pubertal problems in children remains highly speculative, he believes further study is needed.

Past epidemiological evidence, however, does worry Dr. Cooper, because some chemical exposures have been associated with early puberty. In 1973, thousands of Michigan residents ate food contaminated by a flame retardant, PBB, which was later correlated with earlier menstruation in girls. In Puerto Rico, which has some of the worldÂ’s highest rates of early puberty, the condition was linked to higher levels of a plasticizer called phthalate in affected children.

Governmental efforts to create a systematic method to assess possible endocrine disruptors from environmental sources have stalled. In 1996, Congress directed the E.P.A. to develop a comprehensive screening program for possible endocrine disruptors within three years. Dr. Cooper says no such program has begun operation, a failure he attributed largely to stonewalling by chemical industry representatives who serve on an advisory committee for the program.

Read Jo's scary post about reproduction and the plastic in our lives and follow her links if you aren't hyped up enough yet.

Jo also had some follow-up posts to her original plastic post.
Plastic Not Fantastic, Part 1: Kitchen and Foodstuffs
Plastic Gggch, Part II: Babies and Kids (not applicable to me, but may be useful for some of you!)

Here is a list compiled by Purple Goddess in Frog Pajamas listing the various plastics in your neighborhood.

More information about the environment and women's health can be found on the Silent Spring website.

If you want to really go crazy, check out this National Institutes of Health website and then go to the Skin Deep website to see exactly what's in all of the things that you put in your hair, in your mouth, and on your face. I recently looked up some of my stuff and read some product labels. I'm not sure I'll change anything about what I use or do, since I already generally avoid using multiple products or any makeup at all, and a quick read of the ingredients in hair mousse months and months ago already scared me away from that except in the most dire of circumstances. Maybe at some point in the future I'll replace some of the more toxic things.

To leave you on an upbeat note, here is some good news from San Francisco about regulating what kinds of plastic can be used to manufacture baby bottles and toys.

So, um, think about getting a metal water bottle and bringing a shopping bag with you the next time you go to the store instead of grabbing another plastic one...

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