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Chemicals In Plastic

Depending on where you live and work, you're likely to be exposed to many plastic products every day. Food and beverage containers, some disposable plates, and toiletry bottles are all plastic and all are made from chemicals. Research suggests that all plastics may leach chemicals if they're scratched or heated. Research also strongly suggests that at certain exposure levels, some of the chemicals in these products, such as bisphenol A (BPA), may cause cancer in people.

BPA is a weak synthetic estrogen found in many rigid plastic products, food and formula can linings, dental sealants, and on the shiny side of paper cashier receipts (to stabilize the ink). Its estrogen-like activity makes it a hormone disruptor, like many other chemicals in plastics. Hormone disruptors can affect how estrogen and other hormones act in the body, by blocking them or mimicking them, which throws off the body's hormonal balance. Because estrogen can make hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer develop and grow, many women choose to limit their exposure to these chemicals that can act like estrogen.

BPA also seems to affect brain development in the womb. In 2011, a study found that pregnant women with high levels of BPA in their urine were more likely to have daughters who showed signs of hyperactivity, anxiety, and depression. The symptoms were seen in girls as young as 3. It’s not clear why boys aren’t affected in the same way.

Steps you can take

While it's likely impossible to completely avoid all plastic products, try to use as little plastic as possible, especially if you're pregnant, and never use it around food.

To reduce your exposure to BPA:

  • Carry your own glass, steel, or ceramic water bottle filled with filtered tap water.
  • Reduce how much canned food you eat and how much canned formula your baby uses.
  • Use baby bottles with labels that say "BPA free."
  • Avoid handling carbonless copy cash register receipts. If you get a carbonless receipt, don't recycle it. Recycling receipts with BPA in them can spread the BPA to other products made with recycled paper, including napkins and toilet paper.
  • Look closely at plastics with a number 7 recycling symbol on the bottom. If the plastic doesn't also say "PLA" or have a leaf symbol on it, it may contain BPA. See the chart below for more information on plastic types.

To reduce your exposure to other chemicals in plastics:

  • Don't cook food in plastic containers or use roasting/steaming bags; the plastic residues may leach into food when heated in a regular or microwave oven.
  • Use glass, porcelain, enamel-covered metal, or stainless steel pots, pans, and containers for food and beverages whenever possible, especially if the food or drink is hot.

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