BENGALURU: Today, plastic has become an integral part of our daily lives. The environmental concerns over plastic are leading to a global movement seeking prohibitory and regulatory laws over its use. While environment concerns are justified, the question that continues to perplex most people is: Does exposure to plastic cause cancer?
What studies say
Research in recent times has focused on health concerns, primarily revolving around bisphenol A (BPA). BPA, a synthetic industrial chemical used to harden plastic, is used in the manufacturing of food containers, bottles, plates, and mugs. BPA is also found in epoxy resins that are used to make linings for plastic food containers, cans, and bottles.
The issue with BPA is that it mimics the hormone estrogen, disrupting the endocrine system. Studies over the past decades have attempted to show the health risk from exposure to BPA, but research on the subject has been inconclusive. One US study published in 2016 reported that, “BPA may be reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen in the breast and prostate due to its tumour-promoting properties”. Another study from Egypt published in 2018 claimed to have found a link between BPA exposure and increased incidence of breast cancer. Globally, studies continue to examine the possible carcinogenic properties of BPA.
According to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), daily intake of four micrograms of BPA per kilogram of a person’s body weight is safe. Following a scientific review, the EFSA in 2015 concluded that at current levels of BPA,it posed no health risk to people of any age. EFSA is presently undertaking a re-evaluation of BPA toxicity.
Human beings are exposed to BPA when the chemical leaches in small amounts into food and beverages that are stored in plastic containers. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has banned the use of BPA in infant feeding bottles. In 2015, France went a step further and banned the use of BPA in containers and utensils that are meant to come in contact with food.
In India, the regulatory framework as well as implementation remains a matter of some concern.
The Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) had in 2015 banned the use of BPA in feeding bottles for babies. A study by Toxic Links earlier this year found traces of BPA in some bottles and cups in the Indian market. Besides, products which are marked BPA free use Bisphenol S (BPS) and Bisphenol F (BPF), which could pose similar health problems.
(The author is the clinical director and senior consultant oncoplastic breast surgery, Cytecare Cancer Hospitals)
As the uncertainty over the impact of BPA on health continues, it is prudent to make some lifestyle changes and reduce our reliance on plastic. Here are some simple, yet effective ways to do so:
n Opt for steel or glass containers for storing water, instead of plastic bottles.
n Avoid polycarbonate plastic containers for heating food in the microwave. It is safer to opt for ceramic, glass or other microwave-safe food containers.
n Reduce the consumption of tinned or canned foods.
n PET bottles are okay to use, but avoid their reuse.
n Use wax paper instead of plastic for wrapping food.