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Plastic bottles and pizza boxes are not safe anymore

May 9, 2008

We’ve been doing it for years and now they tell us that it’s not safe. Two separate “discoveries” in the last few weeks have revealed that those hard transparent plastic bottles and containers you use are toxic…and so is cardboard. Those cardboard boxes in which you get your pizzas delivered to your home could well be carcinogenic.

Some types of plastic containers are not safe anymore
The first piece of news was not reported in the Indian media as far as I know but Amit was kind enough to send me the link.water bottles The culprit here is the “odorless, tasteless chemical called bisphenol A” which is used in the manufacture of the transparent lightweight bottles.” From what I understand this chemical makes plastic more durable and harder. Well, such bottles/containers are widely used for storing drinking water and for feeding babies and I guess for sundry other things. This is what the article says:

…the US National Toxicology Program, part of the Department of Health and Human Services last week released a draft report on the chemical, saying there was “some concern for neural and behavioral effects in fetuses, infants, and children at current human exposures…”

As a result of this report major corporations in the US like Wal-Mart have pledged to stop the sale of baby bottles made with bisphenol A by next year. Nalgene, which makes these bottles has agreed to replace bottles containing bisphenol A bottles in stores. The Canadian government has taken a harder stand - it is banning the chemical from all baby bottles in the country.

I’ve written about unsafe plastics (of the kind which are not food-grade) but had no idea that even “food grade plastics” could contain dangerous chemicals. Whether the bottles we use in India for storing water contain this chemical or not I don’t know, but apparently most baby bottles have it. And unfortunately newborns and infants are most vulnerable according to the findings. Both the US Toxicology Program and Canadian expert opinion is that there appeared to be “a negligible effect” from bisphenol A on adults.

What harm does bisphenol A do?
The chemical has been linked (in animal studies) to “reproductive problems and possible cancers later in life” and apparently bisphenol A can also “contribute” to obesity if the person has been exposed to it as a fetus. However, what is the exact level of risk of ingesting this chemical? This is what David Ozonoff (professor of environmental health at Boston University School of Public Health) said (to the Boston Globe):

The truthful answer is that nobody knows…and because we don’t know, it’s prudent to avoid something that is avoidable.

I never really trusted plastic, never believed that it was a hundred percent safe…there were too many ifs and buts. In any case, how can anything so damaging to our environment be good for us?

plastic goods

All of us carry around bisphenol A
It’s not just baby bottles however. Hard plastic is used for packaging many products and we all buy them. Plastic is all pervasive. Listen to this:

A recent study by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that about 93 percent of the US population had bisphenol A in their body. Infants and young children had higher levels than adults.

There is no chance that any such survey will be undertaken in India…not for another half a century at least! Far more dangerous colours and synthetic chemicals (banned in developed countries) are to be found in foodstuffs and packaging in India…who will care about the newly discovered dangers of bisphenol A?

PIzza boxes contain PFOS
Recent studies have shown Pizza boxes toPizza Box contain Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) which is a carcinogenic chemical, classified as such by the US Environment Protection Agency’s Science Advisory Board in 2006. It has been shown to “affect the liver, neonatal development, the immune system, and hormone levels.”
This chemical will be banned in packaging from October 2008 onwards “under the Stockholm Convention, to which India is also a signatory.” This will be a global ban but countries need to come to an agreement on it and agree to look for alternatives.

Not surprising to know that the European Union, which is always the first in these cases, has already banned PFOS. So has Mexico.

It has been known for some time now that toxic substances are present in pizza boxes. In Italian studies in 2006, chemicals like benzene, phenols and phthalates (known carcinogens) were known to be “probably released from the cardboard boxes.” These substances can migrate into the food, especially if a hot pizza (more than 60°C) is in direct contact with the box.

Well, I’m thinking our parents were wise. They used glass to store everything…from pickles and masalas to milk and water. Well, I use glass as much as possible but not for storing water. Now I’m wondering whether I should.

(The first two photos are mine. The third one, of the dominoes pizza boxes, has been taken from the dominoes (uk) site)

Related Reading: Metals and Toxins in food packaging
What the world is doing to stop plastics from degrading the environment
Check the weight of what you buy
Newsprint is unsafe to pack food in
Chemicals in our food

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22 Comments leave one →
  1. May 9, 2008 9:26 am

    Thanks for sharing this. I was unaware of the pizza box problem. I knew about water bottles for a few years- that is the main reason they have expiration dates on them. We know the water doesn’t go bad….
    Well written article! Thanks for posting.

  2. May 9, 2008 10:23 am

    scary…guess a lot of stuff has to be chucked from my house then….

  3. May 9, 2008 12:19 pm

    interesting read
    as normal india will never act , these are minor things
    not that life threatening –
    even the fake drugs business thrives in this lawless country

  4. May 9, 2008 12:24 pm

    So much of research and so little effect on the consumers! The fact remains that unless some great tragedy befalls us, we will not realize the dangers of these chemicals! It’s sad… The same thing happened with Coke and the pesticide issue – only when kids started falling sick (Bangalore reported 3 cases of death) did the govt do something about it!

  5. May 9, 2008 12:35 pm

    Hi
    I have heard from a friend in Paper Board industry that McD in India do not use Food Grade material for packing!!!
    Beat that. They have a plastic coating on the boards.(That makes it safe for us)
    So, next time you see that cardboard box/packaging in McD, for all you know, it is recycled from paper and trash from some god forbidden city waste.

    Either we don;t know this or we jus’ do not care.
    Either ways, we are are at a loss.

    As they say,it happens only in India.

  6. May 9, 2008 1:41 pm

    I knew about the plastic bottles proble, even the cola bottles that we use again to store water is dangerous too.
    It cannot be reused. (it has warning to crush bottle after use, while we never do that).

    Pizza box????? Oh! :(
    Is there anything safe to consume now?
    genetically modified ….. newsprint…..chemicals……

    I guess some anti chemical agents should be found out (that can be injected into us) so that we wud be safe to consume anything. I guess that wud be a reality in near future.

  7. Joss permalink
    May 9, 2008 4:41 pm

    Nita, I’m finding out something new here because I didn’t know about bisphenol A until now. And I consider myself quite aware of health issues. I have, however, already stopped buying bottled water, because of all the plastic waste that such a habit creates. Luckily the tap water in Britain is all fine. Also I stopped buying milk in plastic bottles for the same reason. I get it delivered in glass bottles, which will be reused. Yes, our parents were right about a lot of things and we need to get back to doing many things in the same way as them. Here some people advocating a war-time diet, low on sugar, fat, meat, and of course additives. This is something our parents would probably find deeply shocking though! Feeding a family was hard in those days, so why on earth would anyone want to go back to the privations of war-time? Hasn’t the world gone mad?!

  8. talkingshop permalink
    May 9, 2008 4:55 pm

    are you sure this isn’t a way for companies that produce water to make sure you use once then throw out and buy another instead of topping up at the tap? call me cynical, but for god’s sake – everything kills us if you listen to the media. My grandma used to think underarm deodorant was the cause of her bowel cancer… mind you, she also thought licorice cured aids.

  9. May 9, 2008 5:26 pm

    Jennifer, you are welcome. :)

    Vishesh, that’s a good idea…if your folks allow it. :D

    Prax, Nikhil, as you said people here are not able to tackle problems which kill people instantly so they are not going to bother about something that can give you cancer 20 years later.

    Nikhil Narayanan, I had no idea! In fact just today on the way back from the dentist I picked up a burger from Mcdonalds. It was given to me in a brown paper bag…and well I won’t be surprised if it was made from waste or recycled paper which is not allowed for packing food. The only good thing was that the burger was wrapped in some sort of think white paper so it did not touch the brown paper…but I wonder about that other paper.

    Xylene, modern life is giving us modern diseases. We need to look out for ourselves. I firmly believe that only the best of us will survive. The ones who are resistent to the effects of these chemicals will pass their genes on to have healthy offspring immune to plastic etc. :) It’s going to happen naturally (I can see scientists about 500 years from now sitting and discussiong the origin of the ‘ant-plastic’ genetic mutation which enabled humans to become stronger!

    Joss, the world which is inundating us with plastics and additives has gone mad. The world which wants us to eat less and a natural diet is the sane one. :)

    talkingshop, it’s just the opposite. the plastic industry is hopping mad at these developments and putting pressure on governments to halt the bans. Also I suggest you find out more about the dangers of plastic. There is a whole body of research which has proved that plastics are harmful to the health. I don’t believe glass kills us though. Glass is safe for storage purposes.

  10. May 9, 2008 6:55 pm

    Nita:
    While any material (including metals, paper, plastics, etc) may contain chemicals which are potentially dangerous, it is important to differentiate actual poisons from potential ones. If I eat one or two triangles of pizza that came in a box, once a year or so, am I going to get a cancer? All over the world, plastic is used, and has been for a million (okay, fifty?) years. The water that I fill in at home and store in the fridge, is that going to kill me? I am truly skeptical of all this. I doubt there is much by way of hard evidence.
    Disclaimer: I am no expert on this subject.

  11. May 9, 2008 6:57 pm

    I would say there probably is more evidence in treating sugar, trans-fats and salt as poisons than all this plastic-shastic! :-)

  12. May 9, 2008 7:04 pm

    That’s exactly my point doc. It all adds up. As you said, salt, transfats, white refined sugar, chemicals and additives in processed foods, plastics and metals in food packaging, tobacco, air pollution, water pollution…need I go on? If I have to I guess one needs to add genetics and lifestyle too…and I’ve probably missed out various risk factors. One has to minimize one’s risks, that’s all particularly if other things in one’s life aren’t balanced. Let me put it this way…if you stop eating that one piece of pizza you can’t avoid getting cancer. :) It depends on other risk factors too.
    And yes, there is hard evidence of the dangers of plastic, has been for the last many years.

  13. May 9, 2008 7:12 pm

    That was good info. But, what do we do then? Is there a safer way to carry water then?

  14. May 9, 2008 9:07 pm

    While any material (including metals, paper, plastics, etc) may contain chemicals which are potentially dangerous, it is important to differentiate actual poisons from potential ones. If I eat one or two triangles of pizza that came in a box, once a year or so, am I going to get a cancer?

    rambodoc, what you say is correct. From what I’ve read, these chemicals act as endocrine disruptors and also bio-accumulate. So the risks are higher for pregnant women and their babies, oops fetuses. ;)
    Unfortunately, there are no studies that have researched the trans-generational effects of these chemicals on humans, but certain studies done in the wild on birds and mammals have shown cause for concern.

    nova, there are water bottles made without BPA, or metal ones. I personally have switched to a glass bottle for carrying my water.

  15. May 9, 2008 9:48 pm

    Well researched article, Nita! But what can an Earthling do? If we keep worrying about these things, we will have to go back to the stone age ;-)

    Personally, I am not a fan of glass. I have had a few bad experiences with broken glass containers :-) and I have seen people get injured in road accidents because of shattered glass. On the other hand, plastic, or rather, composite materials(in the form of helmets and other protective gear) have saved the lives of many people!

    Raj, I am talking of food containers. This is not against the use of all plastics. – Nita

  16. beefreed permalink
    May 9, 2008 9:53 pm

    Luckily there are bpa-free alternatives springing up online like:

    playtextbaby.com/bpafree – Playtex has bpa-free baby bottles
    titan waterbottle.com sells bpa-free reusable water bottles for adults.

    I’m looking for BPA-free food storage containers. Does anyone know of a good retailer for those?

    Billy

  17. May 9, 2008 11:08 pm

    Nita, thats an excellent post ! Infact one was expecting something of this kind from research. I think what forces us to use plastics should become a point of concern now. Absence of suitable alternatives, cost, durability, scarcity of time, ease of use (in terms of use and throw) have always worked in favour of plastics. Unless we seriously think of long term adverse consequences we humans would continue to slowly kill ourselves.

    Not only plastic containers but we must question ourselves on the way food is cooked now. For example, microwave cooking… it not only involves a different methodology but the containers too are different. People generally use plastic more than they use glass. Again this plastic must have had a different treatment to make it high-temperature resistant.

    It is basically dearth of research which is helping the large corporations play with the lives of many. They all know that common man has no means to reach a conclusion.

    But then, the damage is already done. Plastics have pervaded our lives to the extent that now it is difficult to do away with them. So…the least we could do to stay healthy is to minimize their use to the extent possible.

  18. May 10, 2008 12:15 am

    Oh!!! I knew about the plastic bottles but this pizza box thing is news!!! Considering the fact that almost every weekend a pizza is delivered at my house. *gulp*
    I guess the effects of consuming such poisons will not be visible in the short term, but somehow it scares me to think of a diseased-beyond any aid-old generation 40 years down the line.
    I wonder how many toxics we have already consumed and in how many forms…

  19. batguano101 permalink
    May 11, 2008 12:15 am

    Organic bottles-

    1. Weave a square basket of coconut palm leaves.

    2. Weave a second basket over the first with opposite overlapping weave frm the first.

    3. Hand the double woven basket to a child 6 to 8 Years of Age.

    4. Drink directly from the water you were going to carry.

  20. May 11, 2008 1:26 am

    I switched to a stainless steel travel mug and stopped reusing the same store-bought water bottle repeatedly quite awhile ago. Like many who responded here, I wasn’t aware about the cardboard. Thanks.

    I am going to look out for a stainless steel bottle too! :) – Nita.

  21. Padmini permalink
    May 11, 2008 3:54 am

    While some plastics are not safe, I don’t think all plastics are dangerous. And however much we try to get away from plastics, they seem to have become part of everyday life. I guess a time will come when they will no longer be so pervasive.

  22. May 21, 2008 5:45 pm

    Thank you for good information~~*

    Please comeback to visit my blog too.

    Bye

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