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New Chemicals in Plastics May be as Dangerous as the Ones They Replace

Jul 15, 2015

New research suggests that the chemicals in household plastic products that replace DEHP (di(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate) may have some of the same negative health effects as DEHP.

Plastics manufacturers began to replace DEHP—a probable human carcinogen—in their products about a decade ago, Time magazine reports. The action came in response to a growing consensus that exposure to the chemical could lead to a number of negative health effects. The removal of DEHP from consumer products and food packaging was hailed as a public health advance. But a study in the journal Hypertension links high blood pressure to the presence of DINP and DIDP, two of the chemicals that replaced DEHP.

In addition, a study from the same group of researchers, published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, found a link between the replacement chemicals and insulin resistance, according to Time. "These data raise substantial concerns about similar health effects due to chemicals used to replace DEHP under the presumption that they don’t have the same, or different, adverse health effects," says study author Leonardo Trasande, an associate professor in the departments of pediatrics and environmental medicine at New York University School of Medicine. Trasande said there is a need for further research.

The researchers examined urine and blood samples from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to look for a connection between DEHP replacements and various illnesses. They saw a strong relationship between high levels of the chemicals and both insulin resistance and blood pressure, which are associated with diabetes and other negative health effects.

DEHP is not the first chemical found to be as bad as the chemical(s) it replaced. Manufacturers replaced BPA (Bisphenol A) in plastics after it was shown to be an endocrine disruptor that damages reproductive health and has other negative effects. But some research has shown that BPA replacements may have the same properties. Trasande says it is not surprising that chemicals that behave the same way in a plastic product would have the same side effects. Eliminating untested chemicals from products, however, has proven difficult, in part because the federal regulatory structure assumes that chemicals are "innocent until proven guilty," Trasande says. Trasande calls for reform of the process and says we need to test chemicals "proactively before they’re used on the open market," according to Time.

Until such reforms are made and more research has been conducted, Trasande recommends steps consumers can take to protect themselves and their families from possibly harmful exposures. To minimize contamination to food, store food in glass or ceramic containers and avoid heating food in plastic containers in the microwave, which can separate chemical compounds from the plastic and make them easier to ingest. Consumers should also throw away scratched plastic containers.

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