In an editorial published on September 8, 2020, in the peer-reviewed journal Birth Defects Research, Michiko Watanabe from the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, Cleveland, Ohio, USA, and John Rogers from the National Health Effects and Environmental Research Laboratory of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), North Carolina, USA, introduced a special issue titled “The Trouble with Plastics.” The editors observe that “plastics surround us,” and, “as much as we need plastics, we also need to be aware of how they impact the environment, our health, and that of our children and their children.” The articles in the special issue describe “many of the ways in which plastics negatively impact our health and induce birth defects, some that may not manifest until later in life.” Watanabe and Rogers emphasize that “these findings should motivate us to consider with some urgency what we can do to minimize or avoid the negative impact of plastics.”

The article by Philippa Darbre from the School of Biological Sciences, University of Reading, UK, “provides an overview of endocrine disrupting chemicals present in plastics.” Exposure to these chemicals during a “vulnerable ‘window of susceptibility’ in utero or during early life [may lead] to consequences [which] may arise later in life in the form of reproductive difficulties, metabolic disorders, thyroid dysfunction, immune dysregulation, adverse neurobehavioral outcomes, or cancer.” Further studies are needed “to fill the many gaps in our understanding regarding how these ubiquitous chemicals affect our health and that of generations to come.”

A review by Sanjay Basak and colleagues from the Indian Council of Medical Research, Hyderabad, India, and Institute of Basic Medical Sciences, University of Oslo, Norway, summarized how some plastic-related compounds, including bisphenols, phthalates, and brominated flame retardants, “can, even at low concentrations, affect the development of animal models and likely that of humans.” These chemicals could “disturb early embryonic and placental development” and could also “act through long-lasting epigenetic effects that may explain transgenerational effects.”

Two articles by Mariana Segovia-Mendoza and Helena Solleiro-Villavicencio with colleagues from the University of Mexico provide “astonishing statistics about the plastic patches covering our planet” and discuss the resulting “threat[s] to life in the oceans and to our health.” These two articles also specifically discuss how microplastics and chemicals contained therein could affect the immune and the neuroendocrine systems, respectively. Segovia-Mendoza and colleagues specifically warned that “many reports do not consider that the immune response must be studied by challenging the immune components, so there is little information about BPA [(bisphenol A, CAS 80-05-7)] effects on the immune response during disease.” This means that “immune system deficiencies caused by BPA and phthalates exposure might be missed by studying basal conditions and that BPA and phthalate effects could be worse or more widespread than we suspect.”

A review by Manelle Ramadan and colleagues from the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation, Children’s National Hospital, Washington DC, USA, addressed “the inadvertent hospital-based chemical exposures through the use of plastic medical products, which can lead to cardiovascular consequences” and emphasized that “vulnerable pediatric populations are at increased risk for chemical exposures through lines and other medical devices.” A study by Emre Atay and colleagues from the Afyonkarahisar Health Sciences University, Afyonkarahisar, Turkey, addressed BPA effects on the early development of chicken embryo and found that both the closure of the neural tube and formation of somites were disrupted by BPA exposure, resulting in a lag of the overall growth of the embryo. Further insights into the toxicology of BPA and its replacements are also provided by the many articles appearing in a special issue “Bisphenol Toxicology” published by the peer-reviewed journal Toxicology.


Watanabe, M., and Rogers, J. (2020). “Introduction to ‘The Trouble with Plastics’ special issue.” 112(17): 1297-1299.

Darbre, P. (2020). “Chemical components of plastics as endocrine disruptors: Overview and commentary.Birth Defects Research 112(17): 1300-1307.

Basak, S., et al. (2020). “Plastics derived endocrine-disrupting compounds and their effects on early development.Birth Defects Research 112(17): 1308-1325.

Solleiro-Villavicencio, H., et al. (2020). “The detrimental effect of microplastics on critical periods of development in the neuroendocrine system.Birth Defects Research 112(17): 1326-1340.

Segovia-Mendoza, M., et al. (2020). “How microplastic components influence the immune system and impact on children health: Focus on cancer.Birth Defects Research 112(17): 1341-1361.

Ramadan, M., et al. (2020). “Bisphenols and phthalates: Plastic chemical exposures can contribute to adverse cardiovascular health outcomes.Birth Defects Research 112(17): 1362-1385.

Atay, E., et al. (2020). “Impact of Bisphenol A on neural tube development in 48-hr chicken embyros.Birth Defects Research 112(17): 1386-1396.

Watanabe, M., and Rogers, J., editors (2020). “Special issue: The trouble with plastics.Birth Defects Research 112(17)

Willhite, C., and Daston, G., editors (2020). “Bisphenol Toxicology.Toxicology