Plastic in a microwave could end up in you

Published 10:20 am Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Since we are into the hazardous waste collection season and my environmental information is flooded with new hazard articles, I thought some research was in order.

In an article by Tom Laskawy a few months ago, the Peninsula College of Medicine in Britain (and other studies by the Peninsula Medical School and University of Exeter in the U.K.) found more evidence that BPA represents a clear and present danger to human health. BPA is the term for bisphenol A and used in the manufacture of plastic containers.

You may remember the baby bottle warnings or research of plastic beverage containers. BPA is used in polycarbonate plastic products and is one of the world’s highest production volume chemical and detectable in the bodies of more than 90 percent of the population. Some of this study looked at new information compiled for the first time.

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The study revealed that a quarter of the population with the highest levels of BPA were more than twice as likely to report having heart disease or diabetes compared to those with the lowest levels.

They also found that higher BPA levels were associated with clinically abnormal liver enzyme concentrations. The only way to actually “prove” beyond a doubt with a cause-and-effect study would be to conduct a controlled clinical trial, exposing humans to BPA and seeing who dies. This is a good argument for using rats to conduct testing instead of humans. The tests performed in this study are reported to be overwhelming.

Using plastic containers in a microwave oven would release higher levels of phalates and BPA so I would recommend never using anything plastic in a microwave or heating any food product in a plastic container. There are plastic-safe food and beverage containers that are labeled as such, but to date I have found no study or evidence that states they do not release any of the above mentioned chemicals.

There are reasons why BPA and phalates are being put into plastic containers. They make the plastic soft, or rigid, or pliable or flexible for their intended use. To simply remove the chemical in question would change the structure and ability of the container to perform. The manufacturers of these containers maintain that their products are safe and they have sufficiently tested them. Keep in mind that in the United States the government does not do the testing, the manufacturer or chemical company performs the tests. Until there is strong evidence of danger, they continue to be allowed. In Europe the opposite is true of testing for dangers to human health. Watch your information sources in other countries for warnings if you have concerns about any particular item.

Limited exposure, like many other hazards in our lives, means we should not quit using these products entirely, but knowing there may be a good alternative gives us the option to take the “safe” route when offered a choice. Glass and ceramics have never been proven to cause problems with leaching chemicals, unless you consider the lead paint issue from cheap plates or decorative dishes. Give it some thought and use common sense.

Randy Tuchtenhagen is the solid waste officer for Freeborn County.