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Heating plastics introduces dangers to humans and hormones

Friday - 4/26/2013, 8:21am  ET

Rachel Nania, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Warming food and beverages in plastic containers has been a hot topic in recent years. However, experts say it is a warning that should not be ignored.

Rolf Halden, Ph.D., director of the Biodesign Institute, Environmental Security at Arizona State University, says people generally don't pay enough attention to what they put in the microwave.

"The assumption often is that all the materials that surround the food that's packaged are safe," Halden says. "But some of the materials don't stand up well to the heat and this can potentially lead to exposure to chemicals that pose adverse health risks."

Halden says of the chemicals from plastics that leech into our food, public health experts and scientists are most concerned about the chemicals that act like hormones.

"They mimic the hormones that are the messengers in our human bodies. They have a very important role in that they tell the body how to develop," says Halden, who adds that behavior is also impacted by hormones. "If we mess with the signaling in the body, that can have profound effects."

Early onset of puberty, malformations of the genital system, early development of breasts in girls, miscarriages and reduced sperm count are some of the effects Halden says are associated with chemicals found in plastics.

One compound found in many plastics that Halden and others are concerned about is Bisphenol A, which is commonly referred to as BPA.

Halden says consumers can identify which plastics contain BPA by the number on the bottom of the package or bottle.

"The number seven is an umbrella term that catches a lot of plastics and some of them are made out of Bisphenol A. So the entire container is made out of a material that has endocrine disrupting effects, so this is not an ideal container to package drink and food," he says.

Heating food up in glass containers or dishes is one way to avoid the possibility of introducing these endocrine disrupting chemicals to your body.

In addition to minimizing plastic use in the microwave, Halden also advises people to pay attention to water and drink bottles. These containers can also contain chemicals that pose hazards to humans' health.

"We buy and consume too many water bottles, so there's an opportunity to cut down on using water bottles and refilling in a container that is safe," Halden says.

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