Tuesday, December 30, 2014

"Eating" plastics through daily foods! Modern society's worst crime against future generations!

Plastics have become so omnipotent in our every day lives that we take them for granted like air and water using them for every thing we do from storing water and foods to cooking foods and packing the foods in plastic bags and containers. The present situation vis-a-vis use of plastics is indeed alarming because consumers either do not understand the lethal consequences of using them indiscriminately or do not take seriously so many scientific data implicating them in serious life threatening health disorders including cancer. Plastics started their entry into food industry in a humble way with only a few of them being used for wrapping the foods. But to day there are a wide choice of plastics many of which have become main stream containers and cooking paraphernalia and sadly no one knows for certain what will be its consequences in the long run. Limited studies involving migration limits under so called simulated conditions within the four walls of a laboratory might have given a false sense of comfort to the people who use them for various culinary tasks but no worthwhile study with human subjects through clinical trials can be cited to establish the credentials of even a single plastic substance as an absolutely safe food contact application material! Here is a timely warning from Malaysia which exemplifies the inherent dangers beckoning humanity through such whole hearted adoption of plastics in our daily lives.. 

"Storing food and water in plastic containers may be convenient but is it entirely safe? Environmental scientists warn that tiny amounts of synthetic chemicals used in the processing, packaging and storing of the food we eat can leach, interact and cause long-term damage to our health. Concerns have been raised in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, part of the British Medical Journal group. While these minute quantities in themselves do no harm, no one knows how safe we are from a lifetime's exposure to these chemicals through eating food previously wrapped, or stored or cooked in or with plastics. A study published in early 2008 in Toxicology Letters suggested that hot liquids and foods exacerbate leaching in BPA-containing plastics. When researchers poured boiling water into polycarbonate drinking bottles, it caused up to 55 times more Bisphenol A (BPA) to seep out than room temperature water had. Phthalates, the chemicals that make a Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) container flexible, can migrate out of the plastic when it's heated. Phthalates can leach into food, resulting in hormone imbalances and birth defects. Some of the chemicals in plastics that could cause concern are regulated and some plastics are said to be of food grade quality. However, we are concerned that consumers who eat packaged or processed foods are likely to be chronically exposed to low levels of these substances throughout their lives. The use-and-throw culture of plastics has created a necessity for its recycling. Though organised sectors exist, the unorganised recycling industry also flourishes. It is here that there is a possibility of contamination of different grades of plastics. If end-use products produced from such plastics are in the form of lunch boxes and water bottles, especially for children, they are further going to have an impact on health.  We also overlook the leaching of chemical contaminants from land fillings into the ground water by mismanagement of plastic wastes. Plastic is made by heating components of crude oil or natural gas, combining many chemicals in a process called polymerisation. In addition to the basic polymers, plastics also contain additional chemical components called additives, which are added in small amounts to alter the properties in the polymers in the desired way and/or simplify their processing. The plastics industry tells us that the polymerisation process binds the chemicals together. However this process is never 100% perfect and some of the chemicals may migrate out or leach from the plastic product and into whatever contacts it – our food, our water, etc. Many of the chemicals in plastic can disrupt the normal functioning of the endocrine system of most animals, including humans. The effects of these endocrine disruptors can be devastating and permanent. Embryos and the very young are the most vulnerable to this attack on the endocrine system because of their developing bodies. An assessment of the state of the science of endocrine disruptors prepared by a group of experts for the United Nations Environment Programme and World Health Organisation in 2012 states that the diverse systems affected by endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) likely include all hormonal systems and range from those controlling the development and function of reproductive organs to the tissues and organs regulating metabolism and satiety. The effects on these systems can lead to obesity, infertility or reduced fertility, learning and memory difficulties, adult-onset diabetes or cardiovascular disease, as well as a variety of other diseases. At times, people set to flame mixed rubbish.  Burning waste containing plastic and rubber can also release toxic chemicals and gases such as dioxins in the environment. The plastic industries' response to the warnings of environmentalists is that the toxic chemicals that may migrate from all plastics happen at extremely low levels that cause no harm. We recognise that there is lack of research to make definitive statements on the risks of plastic toxicity, but there is enough to invoke the precautionary principle. CAP calls for the precautionary principle to be applied.  If there is any doubt about the safety or health effects of a chemical, it should be prohibited until it can be proven benign. Erring on the side of risk inevitably exposes the public to major health hazards. Protecting human health and the environment from the hazards of plastic, requires precaution. CAP urges consumers to avoid placing hot food and drinks in plastics or cooking food with plastic ladles and storing hot food in plastic containers/sheets/liners/bags.There are many options available such as glass, ceramic, stainless steel to store or heat food, and traditional wrapping and liners for cooking such as leaves and cotton/linen cloth."

Back to nature movements advocate shunning of all plastics and go back to nature. Use of plant leaves, sheaths, etc is an alternative option to plastics. Imagine in a country like India, plastic based banana leaves look alike materials are flooding the market, increasingly being adopted by the consumers on the basis of cost considerations. People are forgetting that eating hot foods from banana leaves, besides being safe also is healthy as natural phytochemicals leached out into the food are health promoting unlike plastic leachates. There are many other examples to illustrate this point and consumers are better advised to avoid plastics especially for carrying or cooking foods under hot conditions that can increase the dangerous leachates to unbearable levels. Government ban on plastic carry bags looks more a gimmick than any real intention of preventing the industry from manufacturing more dangerous thin plastic bags that attract the consumers for use in their daily lives.   


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