HEALTH HAZARDS OF PLASTIC
Recently I studied and was shocked to know the health consequences of the use of plastic in day to day life. Hence I wish to share the same in short . . . .
Bisphenol – A (BPA) and Phthalates (pronounced Tha-lates) are the two chemicals used for making plastic items. They are called Plasticizers. Plasticizers are used to give flexibility, softness and desired hardness to the plastic item. Production wise, these 2 chemicals constitute largest volume in the chemical industry in the world today. It is just because there is an exorbitantly high demand for plastic products.
Bisphenol-A is a hormone-mimicking chemical used in polycarbonate plastic resins, epoxy resins and other products. It is most commonly used in baby feeding bottles or any type of hard shatterproof plastic containers. It is also found in the lining of canned goods, plastic wrap and other household plastics. Bisphenol has estrogenic properties which, in animal tests has shown to cause a bevy of health problems such as an INCREASE IN PROSTATE AND BREAST CANCER, URO-GENITAL ABNORMALITIES IN MALE BABIES, A DECLINE IN SEMEN QUALITY IN MEN, EARLY ONSET OF PUBERTY IN GIRLS, METABOLIC DISORDERS INCLUDING INSULIN-RESISTANT (TYPE 2) DIABETES AND OBESITY AND NEUROBEHAVIORAL PROBLEMS SUCH AS ATTENTION DEFICIT HYPERACTIVITY DISORDER. Research is showing that when plastic containers, mostly those used to hold liquids and foods, are leeching Bisphenol into the foods and liquids they are holding. Heating food and liquids with these plastics is shown to increase the leeching of this contaminate.
Phthalates are a common class of chemicals used in many household products and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic to improve flexibility and in cosmetics to bind fragrance to the product. Different types of phthalates include diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP), dibutyl phthalate (DBP), butyl benzyl phthalate (BBP), di-isodecyl phthalate (DIDP), di-isononyl phthalate (DINP), di-n-octyl phthalate (DNOP) and many others. Global phthalate production is estimated at 11 billion pounds per year. It is thought that of the adverse health effects of phthalates include: EARLY PUBERTY IN GIRLS, PREMATURE DELIVERY, IMPAIRED SPERM QUALITY AND SPERM DAMAGE IN MEN, GENITAL DEFECTS AND REDUCED TESTOSTERONE PRODUCTION IN BOYS, GENITAL DEFECTS AND TESTICULAR CANCER.
HOW THESE CHEMICALS ENTER IN THE BODY ?
Huge amount of plastic is used as a packing material for food items and many other household products. After removing the stuff and transferring it to proper container, the packing material is put in garbage. Where will it go? Of course it eventually gets added to the soil or will be carried to the sea. After getting into the soil, it interferes with the soil fertility and when the soil becomes hot under the Sun, these chemicals are absorbed by the roots and are transmitted to the plant. The plastic, being not a bio-degradable item, remains for minimum 1000 years under the earth. The plastic particles carried to the sea do contaminate the sea water and affect the reproduction of aquatic animals and fish. Therefore eating fish also adds to accumulation of these poisonous chemicals in the body. The health benefits of fresh vegetables, fruits etc. are unquestionable for human health. But how can we keep a check on Bisphenol A and Phthalates which make them unhealthy ?
WHAT CAN WE DO ?
Many people are aware of the consequences of using plastic carry bags. While in the market, they say “we are accepting a plastic carry bag just because we forgot to take a cotton bag”. Here is a simple solution to overcome this problem if you genuinely wish.
There are some most important things that one should never forget while leaving for a day work. They include Pen, hankie, keys, travel document, cash and mobile phone. So, make a habit to keep your mobile phone in a cotton bag while at home. This is how you will never forget to carry it while leaving from home. This simple idea will enable you to save the environment and prevent the use of plastic which is a time bomb for health. It will be a huge contribution to minimize the use of plastic indeed. Fruits and vegetables in this cotton bag will obviously be contaminated with Bisphenol A and Phthalates, but you will be contributing in limiting the further growth of this monster. By doing this, you will reduce the demand and thereby the production too. It is estimated that the plastic waste in 4 metro cities – Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai and Mumbai weighs more than 61,00,000 kg per day.
Tips to keep a check on plastic use –
1) Carry a light weight stainless steel bottle while travelling.
2) Always carry a cotton bag while leaving home.
3) While taking any food item from restaurant, carry a clean stainless steel container.
4) Avoid using straw for cold beverages.
5) Give a stainless steel container to your children for Tiffin box.
6) Insist for a paper bag when buying grocery.
7) Avoid using frozen foods as they are usually wrapped in plastics.
8) Use stainless steel or glass containers for storing spices/ tea/ sugar at home.
9) Just have a look at home and office whether you can replace some plastic items with other substitute. E.g. Soap-case, water bottles, other containers, stationary material can be easily replaced.
The ill effects of plastic are not seen immediately but they have deep and long lasting consequences. Their disposal generates “unsafe effluence” which can be easily prevented by following aforesaid measures. Arya Chanakya, the chief advisor to Chandragupta Maurya and Bindusara implemented some strategies to maintain discipline in the society. They are termed as साम, दाम, दंड & भेद. Our Government bodies tried all different measures. Saam means explaining the outcome, Daam means charging some fees (As many retail outlets charge some amount for carry-bags), Dand means punishment in terms of money (It was tried at many places in the market) and Bhed means punishing in terms of physical torture. Here I strongly believe that if the consequences are properly explained to the society, punishing will not be required at all. The reason is very simple that plastic is not an addiction causing item like alcohol or tobacco. It is only a matter of convenience and cheap availability. Only understanding the future effects will refrain all of us. It is very easy to follow the above mentioned simple tips and thereby contribute to family, society and global health. Come on let us take an oath “Wherever possible, I will avoid the use of plastic and encourage others to follow me”. I wish to enlighten one amazing calculation here. If you follow and share this oath to 2 people tomorrow and ask them to pass on to another 2 individuals, it will finally reach to 53,68,70,912 on 30th day. This will be a rally of revolution towards health. Once in a life time, we should convey this message to 2 people, that’s it.
Dr. Santosh Jalukar