Three out of four yogurt cups, bath sponges and coffee cup lids contain a cocktail of potentially dangerous chemicals, according to a new study that examined the toxicity and chemical composition of various everyday plastic products.
Other toxic plastics that are in contact with our food included food wraps and gummy candy packaging. These examples underscore a much bigger problem, scientists say: more than 4,000 chemicals are used in plastics and no one knows how many of those chemicals are safe.
'Such chemicals simply shouldn't be in plastics in the first place,' says Martin Wagner from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, a senior author on the study published recently in Environmental Science and Technology. 'Given that we live in the plastic age, we need to make sure they don't affect our health.'
'We examined four different yogurt cups and found toxicity in two of them, but not in the other two,' says Lisa Zimmermann who used cell cultures to investigate the effects of the mix of chemicals in each product
'The problem is that plastics are made of a complex chemical cocktail, so we often don't know exactly what substances are in the products we use. For most of the thousands of chemicals, we have no way to tell whether they are safe or not,' says Wagner.
'This is because, practically speaking, it's impossible to trace all of these compounds. And manufacturers may or may not know the ingredients of their products, but even if they know, they are not required to disclose this.'
Given that we live in the plastic age, we need to make sure they don't affect our health
Martin Wagner from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology
Researchers recommend the following actions:
Refuse buying unnecessary plastics and reduce your plastics exposure and footprint, for example, by buying fresh and unpackaged products
Avoid PVC products when possible, which are labelled #3 in the recycling code, and all 'other types of plastic' labelled as #7 because it is not clear which material they are made from
Consumers can and should demand safer plastics. One way is to ask retailers for transparency regarding what materials a product is made of and which chemicals are in the product
Ask retailers: Which chemicals are in there? How do you make sure these are safe?'
The researchers used cell cultures to investigate the effects of the mix of chemicals in each product. They found that many plastics contain chemicals that induced general toxicity, oxidative and endocrine disrupting effects.
'Three out of four products contained toxic chemicals,' says Lisa Zimmermann, first author of the study, based at Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main, Germany.
It is impossible to pinpoint specifically which chemicals were the culprits: the team discovered more than 1,400 substances in plastics but identified only 260 of them. That means that