Saturday, December 12, 2009

Plastics Are A Problem

A big problem. To the right is Egypt's plastic problem. It's a settlement known as Garbage City on the outskirts of Cairo. (More photos here.)

Plastics and their derivatives are in our blood, everyone's blood. There's no avoiding them. Wallace Nichols PhD, writing for the Huffington Post says:1
"Once inside us they can poison us or cause cancer, neurological damage, endometriosis and birth defects, as well as liver and kidney damage."
Nicholas Kristof, writing last week for the New York Times says:2
"Endocrine disruptors ... are often similar to estrogen and may fool the body into setting off hormonal changes. This used to be a fringe theory, but it is now being treated with great seriousness by the Endocrine Society, the professional association of hormone specialists in the United States.

These endocrine disruptors are found in everything from certain plastics to various cosmetics."
The Endocrine Society is typically conservative, that is, until this summer when they went on record with a 50-page document outlining their concern over environmental pollutants:
"There is growing interest in the possible health threat posed by endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), which are substances in our environment, food, and consumer products."
- Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals: An Endocrine Society Scientific Statement, Endocrine Reviews, June 2009
What to do? Here's one thing Kristof is doing:
"My weekend project is to go through containers in our house and toss out 3’s, 6’s and 7’s."
You might also stock the fridge with mushrooms and grapes. Or stop using hair and body products that contain parabens. Or steer clear of yards doused with pesticides and herbicides. Or, well, just type "xenoestrogens" into Google.

But managing and reducing environmental EDCs is going to take action from bigger players. I wrote in June:
"The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has the lead here. They initiated a testing program (from a 1996 Congressional go-ahead) and in April (2009) are still publishing lists of chemicals, mostly pesticide ingredients, to be screened "to determine whether certain substances may have hormonal effects."

Given the Endocrine Society's evidence-filled warning, I think we need to set a fire under the EPA's screening activities. Thirteen years seems like a long time to still be making lists. Although I can see that having reps from "agrichemical companies" and "commodity chemical companies" on the EPA's Validation Task Force might slow things down."
Here's the EPA's Endocrine Disruptor site.
1 Wallace J Nichols: The Plastics "Out There" and "In Here"
2 Nicholas Kristof: Cancer From the Kitchen?


Steve Parker, M.D. said...

Yeah, but.....

In the U.S. we are living longer on average, and the elderly are healthier and more functional than those of a couple generations ago.

Despite all these contaminants.

Consider the possibility that plastics do more good than harm.


Anonymous said...

The urge to simplify a complex scientific situation so that physicians can apply it to their patients and the public embrace it has taken precedence over the scientific obligation of presenting the evidence with relentless honesty. -Gary Taubes

Anonymous said...

Plastics truly are great, even plastics treated with DuPont™ Light Stabilizer 210 have their place. I just wish we didn't trash or have so much to recycle. Seems we've become a disposable society. I'm sure technology will help adapt us to our new environment; why worry about dirty water when you can reverse osmosis the plastic soup out of it.

Bix said...

What is going on with autism? This is a lot of children.

From Boston Globe:

"Nearly 1 percent of US children have autism, report indicates"

milk said...

Speaking of Egypt. Do watch this Independent Lens documentary on the Zabaleen (Arabic for garbage people).

The Zabaleen (Arabic for “garbage people”) in Egypt recycle 80 percent of the trash they collect, but now multinational corporations threaten their livelihood.