Vital Nature: Carcinogens in Plastics

1345287_water_bottle_blackgroundThe Environmental Working Group, a non-partisan research organization, released their findings from their study and analysis of umbilical cord blood of American babies. They found close to 300 chemicals, including Bisphenol A (BPA), flame retardants, lead and Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) within the donor’s cord blood samples.

PCBs are a group of 209 varying chemicals that are clustered together because they share a common structure but differ in the number of attached chlorine atoms. PCBs are non-conductive, heat-resistant liquids and resins that came into production and usage in the 1930s as coolants and lubricants for various electrical equipment such as capacitors, transformers, plasticizers, pesticide-extenders and even copy paper. One of the primary components of polycarbonate plastic is BPA, which can disrupt human health by mimicking the effects of naturally occurring hormones.

PCBs, by 1974, were noted by the U.S. government’s Report on Carcinogens as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen, Monsanto Chemical Company manufactured 99 percent of the PCBs used by U.S. industry, producing 40 million pounds a year.”

Though the extent to which PCB and BPA effects human health is still under investigation, there are commonly exhibited effects. PCBs have been demonstrated to cause the development of cancer, and an array of adverse health effects on the immune system, reproductive system, nervous system and endocrine system.

So, how are we being exposed to these unnatural, carcinogenic chemicals?

The truth is, they are everywhere around us: from the generic plastic red cup you sipped from a few days ago, the flame-resistant mattress cover you sleep on every night, the finish on your floor, Tupperware, to some oil-based paints.

Note the above products have a generally plastic vibe, and then realize that PCBs do not readily break down in nature, and therefore may remain within the cycle of air, water, soil and even flesh for extensive durations. Though the Environmental Protection Agency banned most usage in 1979, the persistent PCB compounds remain persistent in their being within our environment.

Surely, PCBs have shown their negative effects on humanity, but we tend to dismiss the fact that—or even the sheer possibility of—these carcinogens being transferred to and from us through the bodies of other creatures, notably fish and other aquatic creatures.

In July 2003, the Environmental Working Groupmade national impact when they announced their initial report sharing that 7 out of 10 farm-raised salmon were contaminated with high-risk levels of PCB. EWG’s analysis found that 800,000 American adults had ingested enough farmed salmon to exceed lifetime cancer risks by a factor of 100.

Avoiding toxic exposure to such carcinogens is as simple as doing a bit of your part to reduce our carbon footprint. Avoid using plastics, especially non-reusable ones which are at increased risk of being made with BPA and such, and make sure to properly dispose of and recycle what you do you use.