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Plastic materials pervade every area of modern life. It is estimated that during the first ten years of this century, almost as much plastic was manufactured as during the whole of the last century. A substantial amount of the world’s crude oil is used in the production of plastics. Furthermore, plastic waste is a huge environmental issue due to the harmful chemicals and greenhouse gases that are emitted when it is incinerated. Alternatively, if buried deep in landfill sites, harmful chemicals can leach into the soil, contaminating groundwater; floating plastic waste can survive for thousands of years in water, potentially serving as a transportation device for invasive species, thus disrupting habitats. Plastic debris in water can also be laced with chemicals which, when ingested, can injure or poison. In addition to the effects on habitats and wildlife, the chemicals that are added to plastics (often to provide desirable performance characteristics such as hardness or flexibility) are also absorbed by the human body. They can therefore pose serious health risks, not just for those exposed to them during the manufacturing process, but for the population in general. Diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP), a plasticising chemical, is a recognised endocrine disruptor (i.e., a chemical that may interfere with the body’s hormone system), and it can increase the risk of birth defects and other developmental disorders. Children are particularly vulnerable to these toxic chemicals and their capacity to interfere with hormonal systems. By altering feedback loops in the brain, thyroid, gonads, pituitary and other parts of the endocrine system, endocrine disruptors can affect overall development and increase the risk of cancer later in life.  Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are widely used in many plastic products and have also been associated with numerous health conditions. One study measuring the levels of PBDEs in children’s blood found that the higher the levels, the significantly poorer the child's cardiovascular responses to stress, and the worse the parental and self-reported anger in the child, indicating both cardiovascular and psychological effects of PBDE exposure. There is also increasing evidence that PBDE exposure in childhood can increase a child’s susceptibility to autism, as well as long-lasting behavioural abnormalities – particularly deficits in motor activity and cognition. Some chemicals used in plastic were, at least for a period of time, considered safe to use. For example, the use of bisphenol A (BPA) in plastics was considered safe for many years; however, it is currently under intense scrutiny, as it has been demonstrated that it is also an endocrine-disrupting compound.   In France, as of 2015, BPA was completely banned from use in any form of food contact material; however, it is still freely marketed in other parts of the world or has simply been replaced with other substances, such as bisphenols S or F, which have also been shown to have endocrine-disrupting effects. Plastics play a role in almost every aspect of food production and preparation. Our food is often in direct contact with plastic, from being processed with plastic-covered equipment to being packaged in plastic containers or plastic-lined tins. In our house, food is stored and often reheated in plastic containers. It has long been known that leaching (or migration) of chemicals takes place from plastic containers into the food we eat. However small the quantities of these toxins, the plastic additives’ potential to cause enormous risks to our health means that consumers should be aware of the dangers that plastics pose.  Gervet B (2007). The use of crude oil in plastic making contributes to global warming. Retrieved April 2016 from http://www.ltu.se/cms_fs/1.5035!/plastics%20-%20final.pdf.  Webb HK et al. (2013). Plastic Degradation and Its Environmental Implications with Special Reference to Poly(ethylene terephthalate). Polymers. 5(1). 1-18.  USGS (2015). Contaminants found in groundwater. Retrieved April 2016 from http://water.usgs.gov/edu/groundwater-contaminants.html.  European Commission (2011). Plastic Waste: Ecological and Human Health Impacts. Retrieved April 2016 from http://ec.europa.eu/environment/integration/research/newsalert/pdf/IR1_en.pdf.  Lithner D, Larsson A, Dave G (2011). Environmental and health hazard ranking and assessment of plastic polymers based on chemical composition. Sci Total Environ. 409(18). 3309-24.  Howdeshell KL et al. (2007). Cumulative effects of dibutyl phthalate and diethylhexyl phthalate on male rat reproductive tract development: altered fetal steroid hormones and genes. Toxicol Sci. 99(1). 190-202.  Parks LG et al. (2000). The plasticizer diethylhexyl phthalate induces malformations by decreasing fetal testosterone synthesis during sexual differentiation in the male rat. Toxicol Sci. 58(2). 339-49.  Shea KM; American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Environmental Health (2003). Pediatric exposure and potential toxicity of phthalate plasticizers. Pediatrics. 111(6 Pt 1). 1467-74.  Crane DI et al. (1988). Changes to the integral membrane protein composition of mouse liver peroxisomes in response to the peroxisome proliferators clofibrate, Wy-14,643 and di(2-ethyl-hexyl)phthalate. Mol Cell Biochem. 81(1). 29-36.  Landrigan P et al. (2003). Assessing the effects of endocrine disruptors in the National Children's Study. Environ Health Perspect. 111(13). 1678-82.  Gump BB et al. (2014). Polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) exposure in children: possible associations with cardiovascular and psychological functions. Environ Res. 132. 244-50.  Wong S. and Giulivi C (2016). Autism, mitochondria and polybrominated diphenyl ether exposure CNS Neurol Disord Drug Targets. [epub ahead of print]  Linares V et al. (2015). Human exposure to PBDE and critical evaluation of health hazards. Arch Toxicol. 89(3). 335-56.  Vandenberg LN et al. (2013). Regulatory decisions on endocrine disrupting chemicals should be based on the principles of endocrinology. Reprod Toxicol. 38. 1-15.  Lahimer MC et al. (2013). Characterization of plastic packaging additives: Food contact, stability and toxicity. Arab J Chem. In press. doi:10.1016/j.arabjc.2013.07.022.  Eladak S. et al. (2015). A new chapter in the bisphenol A story: bisphenol S and bisphenol F are not safe alternatives to this compound. Fertil Steril. 103(1). 11-21.
Common acidic foods include vinegar, lemon juice, tomatoes, fruit juices, milk, cola and other fizzy drinks. Food that is acidic can react with materials such as plastic containers and packaging, which may contain toxic components such as bisphenol A (BPA), bisphenol S (BPS), bisphenol F (BPF), lead and antimony, to list just a few amongst potentially thousands. When acidic food is stored in plastic containers, or comes in contact with epoxy resins found in food packaging, leaching of these toxic compounds can occur. One study has shown that, when in contact with acidic foods, there is increased leaching of toxins from plastic or plastic-lined baby bottles. Another study found that darker coloured bottles leach more toxins than light or clear ones when in contact with acidic foods, and that leaching actually increases over the lifespan of a product.,  While it may seem simple to avoid ‘acidic’ foods and drinks, it may be surprising that milk, a common beverage served in plastic baby bottles, is in fact an acidic liquid. Some studies have shown that the levels of toxic substances leaching from plastic containers when in contact with acidic food are not above the levels deemed ‘safe’ by the European Commission in Regulation 10/2011, thus suggesting that this leaching should not be a concern for health. However other studies suggest that even doses below the accepted ‘safe’ limit of BPA, for example, can be harmful. BPA is a recognised endocrine disruptor, meaning it interferes with hormonal systems in mammals. It has also been demonstrated that exposure during gestation and in the first few weeks following birth may be associated with male and female infertility, an increased predisposition to breast and prostate cancer and behavioural abnormalities. Concerns over the impact of the endocrine disruptor BPA on health have resulted in its removal from many consumer products, especially baby bottles, which are therefore named “BPA Free”. In many cases, however, the BPA in these products has been replaced with alternative toxic substances, such as bisphenol S (BPS) or bisphenol F (BPF), which have been shown to have similar, or potentially worse endocrine disrupting properties to BPA, with the unfortunate added potential for other adverse effects.,  Given that milk is an acidic liquid, which have been shown to increase the leaching of these substances, BPA-free bottles may not be the ‘safe’ alternative they are claimed to be. Whilst it could be argued that the levels of leached toxins safely reside within the recommended limits, these limits often do not take into account multiple exposure routes or the volume or frequency of exposure. These regulations do not account for what may seem obvious: the vast difference in exposure to these toxins between consumers, for example those who drink no cola as opposed to those who drink five bottles. Given the increased rate of toxic chemical leaching when plastic is in contact with acidic food, a much safer option is to use glass containers for these products, but caution should still be taken, as glass containers often have plastic lid seals.  Sanchez-Martinez, M. et al. (2013) Migration of antimony from PET containers into regulated EU food simulants. Food Chem. 141(2). 816-22  Kubwabo, C. et al. (2009). Migration of bisphenol A from plastic baby bottles, baby bottle liners and reusable polycarbonate drinking bottles. Food Additives & Contaminants. 26(6). 928-937  FDA (2007) Approximate pH of foods and food products. Retrieved October 2016 from, http://www.foodscience.caes.uga.edu/extension/documents/FDAapproximatepHoffoodslacf-phs.pdf  Reimann, C. et al. (2007). Bottled drinking water: Water contamination from bottle materials (glass, hard PET, soft PET), the influence of colour and acidification. Applied Geochemistry. 25(7). 1030-1046  Richter, C.A. et al. (2007). In vivo effects of bisphenol A in laboratory rodent studies. Reproductive Toxicology. 24(2). 199-224  James, A. et al. (2013). Review: Endocrine disrupting chemicals and immune responses: A focus on bisphenol-A and its potential mechanisms. Molecular Immunology. 53(4). 421-430  Maffini, M.B. et al. (2006). Endocrine disruptors and reproductive health: the case of bisphenol-A. Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology. (25). 179-186  Rochester, J.R. et al. (2015). Bisphenol S and F: A Systematic Review and Comparison of the Hormonal Activity of Bisphenol A Substitutes. Environmental Health Perspectives. 123(7). 643-650  Eladak, S. et al. (2015). A new chapter in the bisphenol A story: bisphenol S and bisphenol F are not safe alternatives to this compound. Fertility and Sterility. 103(1). 11-21