Thursday, November 20, 2008

the coming plastic scare

Most everyone has heard of BPA by now, (the commonly used plastic additive that can cause fertility problems) but the rule of plurality* is about to turn popular fear against all things plastic in a big way.

* I just made that name up, but the idea is that things usually come in sets of 0, 1, or many. Basically, you can believe that there are no aliens. If you run into one someday, you may believe there is one species of aliens and leave it at that. If you turn around and run into another species of aliens, you have no choice but to assume that there are many, many species of aliens in existence and we just haven't met them yet. It would be very difficult to argue that there are some very specific conditions that led to precisely two or three alien species evolving and no more. Same goes for dangerous plastic. First there were no dangerous plastics, then there was one, and now there is commonly available evidence that there are many.

Science magazine published an article recently about how commonly used plastic equipment is corrupting lab results because of interaction between the plastics and the organic material being used in the study.

Quoth the study:

"...identified the presence of two families of compounds from the plastic that had contaminated their experiments and produced biological effects: quaternary ammonium biocides-anti-bacterial agents that manufacturers add to plastics-and oleamide, as well as related chemicals compounds used to improve the properties of plastics."

(BTW, switching to glass jars or canned foods is of little use - glass jar lids are usually coated in rubberized plastic, and food cans are as well. Otherwise, the food ends up tasting metallic. There probably are safe plastics, but what institution exists today that could be trusted to tell us which ones they are?)

As an aside, I remember reading an article about almost this exact same study published when I was in high school (around 1997, I think). It involved a plastic softening agent acting as an environmental estrogen and interfering with culture growth, I think. A brief search of the interwebs revealed no obvious references to this, but I'm sure I read it. If true, and if people really do get excited about the dangers of food stored in plastic this time, it'd be an interesting study in the propogation of information. Maybe people weren't ready to be alarmed back then. Now that BPA has paved the way, widespread fear of plastic is impending.

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