Many consumer products, such as exfoliating soaps, contain tiny beads that are typically made from plastic. Marine science researchers have expressed concern about the impact of all of this plastic on the environment and no one is really certain about the impact these plastics have on human health.
Unilever, maker of an array of personal care consumer products, including Dove soaps, Vaseline, and Pond’s skin cream just announced a phase-out of “plastic micro beads as a ‘scrub’ material” in its products, said CNN. The phase-out is expected to be complete by 2015, said Unilver, adding that “the issue of plastics particles in the ocean is an important issue.”
Used as so-called “scrubbers” in domestic and industrial goods, microplastics are tiny plastic pieces that are typically about 5 millimeters—or 0.2 inches—in length and comprise a major source of marine debris, CNN explained. In a review led by Richard Thompson, professor of marine science at the University of Plymouth in the United Kingdom, microplastics also enter the environment through plastic pellets and powders spilled during plastics’ manufacturing as well as from deterioration of larger plastic pieces, said CNN.
Research suggests that these small plastic pieces, even pieces that are tens of microns in diameter, can remain in marine invertebrate tissues, said Thompson. In fact, a 2008 study from his group revealed that microplastic particles remained in mussels for 48 days. “It remains to be seen whether they produce harmful effects in their own right,” Thompson told CNN. Meanwhile, CNN recently reported that a research ship found the world’s oceans to be “plasticized” and Thompson said another issue involves the ability of the plastics to absorb tainted chemicals in the water, a potential and major concern to marine life, which could ingest the dangerous pieces. Plastics do not degrade with time but, rather, continue to accumulate in the environment.
There have been limited studies on the issue of nanoplastics on our marine environment; even less on the harmful effects of microplastics on humans. “I think the potential for broader harmful effects—a wider range of organisms, potentially including us—is only going to increase unless we do something about it,” Thompson noted.
We have long written about the myriad health issues linked with various chemicals used in plastics. For instance, bisphenol A (BPA) is a polycarbonate plastic chemical found in so many consumer products, its ubiquity is nearly legendary. Linked to a massive array of adverse physical reactions in lab tests, the estrogenic chemical is quietly being released in “BPA-free” products in which a related chemical, BPS, is being used.
Studies continue to link the estrogenic polycarbonate plastics chemical to adverse health effects, including links to chromosomal damage and egg development disruption. Because BPA also blocks hormone activity and mimics the powerful female hormone, estrogen, BPA can interrupt sexual development and processes, especially in developing fetuses, infants, children, and teens. Other issues include effects on uterine health and mammalian reproduction; a deadly uterine infection; premature puberty; Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and other female fertility and endocrine issues; and erectile dysfunction and male sexual problems, to name just a few. BPA’s effects have been found to be immediate, long lasting, and trans-generational, meaning effects could carry years into the future and effects on past generations could harm future generations. BPA has also been linked to increased heart risks, behavior problems, childhood and teenage obesity, and a wide and growing range of health effects that seem to affect nearly every bodily system. Brain tumors, hormone-sensitive cancers, brain and social behaviors, increased anxiety and depression, brain cell connection interference, interruptions in chemotherapy treatment, increased risks of immune system diseases and disorders, liver function and intestinal problems, and cardiac issues, gat cell confusion, and pancreatic issues relating to diabetes have been linked to BPA.
Phthalates, which make plastic and vinyl more flexible, bind to cells, altering the production of certain hormones, including insulin and estrogen and interfere with the body’s hormone system. Phthalates may also play a role in childhood obesity and might harm children’s mental and behavioral development, and their muscular coordination. Research has linked phthalates to issues with thyroid function in humans; disruption in pubertal development in young girls, which can lead to later complications; negative behaviors in young children; breast enlargement in boys; and ADHD. In pregnancy, phthalates have been linked to the birth of boys who express less typically masculine behaviors and to an increase in premature births. Phthalates have also been found to exacerbate dermatitis in tests with mammals and affect the development of the male reproductive system including with issues with infertility, undescended testes, and testicular development; penis and other reproductive tract malformations, such as hypospadias; and reduced testosterone levels. Some phthalates have been associated with liver cancer and problems with the developing fetus and are known to interfere with androgens; a recent study found that women face increased diabetes risks due to phthalates found in common household products.