In an article published on June 4, 2018, Erik Solheim, Head of the United Nations Environment Programme (UN Environment), addressed the widespread global use of plastics and the effects on human health. “The fact is that while we are acutely aware of the alarming rising tide of plastic waste, there is not a great deal known about the long-term health impacts of this pollution crisis,” he stated.
In recent years, knowledge and evidence has been acquired regarding chemical migration from food packaging into food, Solheim highlighted. “The chemicals causing the most disquiet have been bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates,” he noted. “BPA may disrupt hormone and reproductive systems,” he explained, and “[t]here are also suspicions that it could contribute to diabetes, heart disease and even cancer.” Phthalates “are linked to fertility problems, pregnancy complications and other health issues,” he further summarized.
Less is known about the human health effects of microplastics, a topic “UN Environment and others have been raising red flags about . . . for a few years now,” Solheim reminded. Microplastics are “pieces of plastic under 5 millimeters in length” and they “come from many sources: larger pieces of plastic that break up; microbeads, which are added to health and beauty products like toothpastes and face scrubs; and synthetic fibers,” he explained. Microplastic particles “pass through water filtration systems and end up in the ocean, water bodies and our drinking water” (FPF reported). According to Sherri Mason, a microplastics researcher at the State University of New York at Fredonia, U.S., “[w]e have seen the impacts on aquatic species – from dehydration/starvation to the transmission of bioaccumulative toxic compounds – and we shouldn’t expect it to be any different for us.”
“We need to be clear that we’re not against plastics,” Solheim wrote. “The problem isn’t plastic, it’s what we do with it,” he clarified. “We’ve become over reliant on single-use or disposable plastic,” he declared, thus urging “governments, industry, communities and individuals to break up with single-use plastic.”
Erik Solheim (June 4, 2018). “The missing science: Could our addiction to plastic be poisoning us?” UN Environment