The greatest danger to health is posed by those substances secreted by plastic, which have a hormone-like effect, scientists point out. The chemical structure of these compounds allows them to be included in various physiological processes of the human body: to influence metabolism, sleep, fertility (the ability to have children).
Substances that can act as hormones can be found in many types of plastics that we encounter every day. These include polyfluoroalkyl chemicals, phthalates, bisphenol A, dioxins, toxic metals (lead, cadmium). Some of these substances are added to plastics to improve their quality and longevity. Others appear in plastic after it is discarded, when it turns into microplastic.
Constant imperceptible impact
“Exposure to hormone-like substances is not the only problem today, but they pose a serious threat to future generations. When these substances act on pregnant women, they can affect the health of their children and even grandchildren, ”said Pauliina Damdimopoulou of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, co-author of the paper, in a press release.
She added that the strongest evidence for the harm of these substances comes from animal studies. In them, for example, it was shown that they can cause changes in DNA that are passed down through the generations.
Scientists emphasize that there is practically no corner in the world where you can hide from the action of plastic – today it is almost everywhere. This is one of the reasons why the effect of substances that affect endocrine regulation is very difficult to assess in real life: it is impossible to single out a control group of people on which they do not act at all. Jodi Flaws of the University of Illinois, lead author of the report, believes that the harmful effects of these compounds can be compared to other environmental toxins, such as cigarette smoke. But it’s easier to hide from the smoke.
The old measures did not help, new ones are needed
The authors of the report believe that the fight against exposure to substances that affect endocrine regulation should be global and include all countries and companies that produce plastic. At the same time, according to scientists, recent attempts to make plastic “with a human face” have practically failed. So, the substances with which they tried to replace bisphenols turned out to be about the same toxic. At the same time, biodegradable plastic usually contains dangerous additives. In turn, the production of “conventional” plastic is growing.
Scientists write that they understand that people need plastic and will need it for a long time. But in order to reduce the risk from its impact in the future, you need to work intensively now. Among the experts’ recommendations: strict control over the use of hormone-like substances in plastics, including bans, campaigns to develop safe alternatives to modern plastics, and improved plastic recycling technology.