March 10th, 2013 by James Ayre
Notable levels of phthalates and other industrial chemicals are present in many foods commonly eaten within the United States, new research from The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) has found. Phthalates are synthetic compounds that are used as plasticizers, to make plastic flexible, and are present in many other products such as shampoo, perfumes, colognes, soaps, childcare products, deodorant, etc. A multitude of different studies have found them to be toxic to humans, causing a wide variety of effects, such as: damage to the reproductive system/hormone levels, damage to sperm, premature breast development and early onset puberty in females, and premature birth.
“Although it’s not completely understood how phthalates get into our food, packaging may be a contributor to the levels of the toxin in food,” stated lead investigator Arnold Schecter, M.D., M.P.H., professor of environmental health at The University of Texas School of Public Health Dallas Regional campus, part of UTHealth.
According to Schecter, this is the first study that he is aware of that has compiled an expansive analysis of the phthalates present in foods within in the United States. National Institutes of Health researcher Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., is the senior author on the study publication.
“It’s unfortunate that we have these toxic chemicals in our bodies,” said Schecter. “However, this is not a cause for alarm because the amount of phthalates found in the food falls below what the Environmental Protection Agency considers safe. But it is cause for concern because these toxins and others previous reported by this group do not belong in our food or our bodies.”
“A sample of 72 commonly consumed foods including pizza, meats and beverages from supermarkets in Albany, N.Y., were purchased and tested for the presence of phthalates. Researchers detected some level of phthalate in every food product they sampled,” Schecter said.
“In other studies, Schecter and his colleagues have found bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical produced in large quantities for use primarily in the production of polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins, and hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD), a widely-used flame retardant, in foods. Polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE), another kind of flame retardant, was found in butter and its paper wrapping, which led to butter contamination.”
The new study was just published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
It’s pretty clear that this study should be followed up on with further research on the subject.
While it is somewhat surprising that so little research has been done on something as important as this, it isn’t that surprising. From my own interactions with people, most people simply don’t care, or are unwilling to be aware of the possibility that many of the products that they have been using from an early age onwards could have a detrimental effect on their health, and that of their descendants. Whether it’s from an inability to understand the complex systems and interactions of the natural world, or simply too much comfort and investment into beliefs, many people seem unwilling to even consider the possibility that many of the chemicals ubiquitous in their lives could be having an effect on their health.
For those looking for a practical way to cut down on their exposure to chemicals such as phthalates, the simplest way is to cut back on your use of packaged food. Growing or gathering some of your food is a good option, depending on where you live. Of course you don’t want to gather food from somewhere that has been sprayed with herbicides or pesticides, or too close to roads (because of lead pollution), but if you live somewhere close to a relatively “wild” place you can find good food, and for free. Many common “weeds” such as dandelion and stinging nettles are actually a good bit more nutritious than the greens that you can buy at stores.
Image Credits: Superstore via Wikimedia Commons
Keep up to date with all the most interesting green news on the planet by subscribing to our (free) Planetsave newsletter.