The Plastic Issue

The Plastic Issue

Ecology Center (A Nonprofit Organization Located in Berkeley, California)

Adverse Health Effects of Plastic

Common Uses
Adverse Health Effects
Polyvinylchloride (#3PVC)
Food packaging, plastic wrap, containers for toiletries, cosmetics, crib bumpers, floor tiles, pacifiers, shower curtains, toys, water pipes, garden hoses, auto upholstery, inflatable swimming pools
Can cause cancer, birth defects, genetic changes, chronic bronchitis, ulcers, skin diseases, deafness, vision failure, indigestion, and liver dysfunction
Phthalates (DEHP, DINP, and others)
Softened vinyl products manufactured with phthalates include vinyl clothing, emulsion paint, footwear, printing inks, non-mouthing toys and children’s products, product packaging and food wrap, vinyl flooring, blood bags and tubing, IV containers and components, surgical gloves, breathing tubes, general purpose labware, inhalation masks, many other medical devices
Endocrine disruption, linked to asthma, developmental and reporoductive effects. Medical waste with PVC and pthalates is regularly incinerated causing public health effects from the relese of dioxins and mercury, including cancer, birth defects, hormonal changes, declining sperm counts, infertility, endometriosis, and immune system impairment.
Polycarbonate, with Bisphenol A (#7)
Water bottles
Scientists have linked very low doses of bisphenol A exposure to cancers, impaired immune function, early onset of puberty, obesity, diabetes, and hyperactivity, among other problems (Environment California)
Many food containers for meats, fish, cheeses, yogurt, foam and clear clamshell containers, foam and rigid plates, clear bakery containers, packaging "peanuts", foam packaging, audio cassette housings, CD cases, disposable cutlery, building insulation, flotation devices, ice buckets, wall tile, paints, serving trays, throw-away hot drink cups, toys
Can irritate eyes, nose and throat and can cause dizziness and unconsciousness. Migrates into food and stores in body fat. Elevated rates of lymphatic and hematopoietic cancers for workers.
Polyethelyne (#1 PET)
Water and soda bottles, carpet fiber, chewing gum, coffee stirrers, drinking glasses, food containers and wrappers, heat-sealed plastic packaging, kitchenware, plastic bags, squeeze bottles, toys
Suspected human carcinogen
Bedding, clothing, disposable diapers, food packaging, tampons, upholstery
Can cause eye and respiratory-tract irritation and acute skin rashes
Particle board, plywood, building insulation, fabric finishes
Formaldehyde is a suspected carcinogen and has been shown to cause birth defects and genetic changes. Inhaling formaldehyde can cause cough, swelling of the throat, watery eyes, breathing problems, headaches, rashes, tiredness
Polyurethane Foam
Cushions, mattresses, pillows
Bronchitis, coughing, skin and eye problems. Can release toluene diisocyanate which can produce severe lung problems
Clothing, blankets, carpets made from acrylic fibers, adhesives, contact lenses, dentures, floor waxes, food preparation equipment, disposable diapers, sanitary napkins, paints
Can cause breathing difficulties, vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, weakness, headache and fatigue
Non-stick coating on cookware, clothes irons, ironing board covers, plumbing and tools
Can irritate eyes, nose and throat and can cause breathing difficulties


  • Centers for Disease Control Report, “National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals,” 2001.
  • Dadd, Debra, Home Safe Home, Penguin Putnam, New York, 1997.
  • Ecology Center Plastic Task ForceReport, Berkeley, CA, 1996.
  • Goettlich, Paul, “What are Endocrine Disruptors?,” 2001
  • National Resources Defense Council website, “Endocrine Disruptors FAQ,” 2001.

The Environmental Effects