If you see this symbol on the bottom of a plastic container, be aware that the product was made with polycarbonate plastics.
Polycarbonate plastics are typically clear and hard and marked with the recycle symbol and "7" in the middle or may contain the letters "PC" near the recycle symbol.(1) Read about the concerns related to polycarbonate
Society of the Plastics Industry:
A plastic item that carries a recyclable symbol simply indicates it is recyclable and does not make any health statement.
The PC stands for polycarbonate plastic.
The 7 is an SPI resin identification code used for recycling purposes, and indicates that the product is in a certain category of resins. There are 7 categories:
polyethylene terephthalate (PETE);
high density polyethylene (HDPE);
polyvinyl chloride (PVC or vinyl);
low density polyethylene (LDPE);
polypropylene (PP); or
- Polystyrene (PS)
Other (the product is made with a resin other than the six listed above, or is made of more than one resin used in combination. Polycarbonate is in this category.(9)
Polystyrene (#6) and PVC (#3) are also toxins that can leach into food from the container or food packaging.(12)
Polypropylene (#5 PP), #2 HDPE and #4 LDPE are not known to leach harmful substances. Polypropylene (#5) is considered the safest or better yet, avoid plastic altogether and switch to glass or lightweight stainless steel containers.(14)
"Single use" plastic bottles made of polyethylene terephthalate [#1 PET or PETE] are not recommended for repeat use because of the risk of bacterial contamination from infrequent and insufficient washing.(14)
Other important notes:
Before 1999, phthalates were used in pacifiers, soft rattles, and teethers.(12)
Other ways to avoid exposure to styrene in the home include:
"Styrene is a component of tobacco smoke. Avoid
smoking in enclosed spaces like inside the home or car in
order to limit exposure to children and other family members.
Styrene is released during the use of home copiers.
Families should use a home copier only when needed and
turn it off when finished. It is also important to keep the
room with the copier well ventilated."(12)
If I was a parent of a small child I would err on the conservative side and simply avoid these products altogether.
There are a number of companies online that make safer plastic marked with a 5 for polypropelene. Walmart apparently carries products made from Arrow Plastics, a company based in Illinois. All of their products are manufactured in the U.S. They have a large line of products, including sippy cups, children's plates and lunch box plastic ware which are made from polypropylene and are marked with the recycling code #5.
As for those of us without children, I went through my kitchen cupboards this week and found two "microwave" dishes that I have been using for years that was made with BPA. The #7, inside the recycling symbol was right next to the lettering: "microwave-safe". One bowl was clear plastic, the other one was not. For years, I have been taking food out of other containers to microwave them in these presumably safe microwave containers, made with BPA. Needless to say, I added these containers to my recycle bin. In fact I threw out my plastic cling wrap and all the plastic containers I use specifically for microwaving. A few hard plastic coffee mugs, made with BPA that I have been pouring very hot coffee into for years, also got added to the pile. It looks like glass is going to eventually replace the plastic in my kitchen.
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BPA is in plastic bottles, baby bottles, food cans, dental sealants, etc.
A man-made chemical, Bisphenol A (BPA) is one of the highest-volume chemicals produced worldwide. It is classified as an endocrine disruptor, which alters the function of the endocrine system by mimicking the role of the body’s natural hormones.
BPA is used in the manufacture of polycarbonate plastic, and as an additive in other widely used consumer products.
Concerns are mounting over the current established guidelines for acceptable levels of BPA in the U.S. which is 5 mg/kg, and recently a board of advisors to the FDA have recommended lowering that level.
A growing body of studies are revealing that exposure to BPA appears to cause birth defects and developmental problems in children. In addition, exposure to BPA has been blamed for a variety of other problems, including cancer, diabetes, angina, coronary heart disease, elevated liver enzymes, obesity and attention-deficit disorder.(3)
Polycarbonate plastics are typically clear and hard and marked with the recycle symbol “7” or may contain the letters "PC" near the recycle symbol.(1)
Polycarbonate plastics have many applications including use in certain food and drink packaging, e.g., water and infant bottles, plastic dinnerware, toys, compact discs, impact-resistant safety equipment, detergents, cosmetics, pesticides, flame retardants, and medical devices. Polycarbonate plastic can also be blended with other materials to create molded parts for use in mobile phone housings, household items, and automobiles. Epoxy resins are used as lacquers to coat metal products such as food cans, bottle tops, and water supply pipes. Some polymers used in dental sealants or composites contain bisphenol A-derived materials." (1),(2),(6)
In a recent article by HealthDay News, Scott Belcher, PhD, explains that exposure to BPA can occur through direct contact or by exposure to food or drink that has been in contact with material containing BPA. Previous studies have found that repeatedly scrubbing, washing and boiling polycarbonate baby bottles could cause them to release BPA. Several factors can cause the PBA to seep into the food or liquid. Heating of cans to sterilize food, the presence of acidic or basic food or beverages in cans or poly-carbonate plastic, or repeated washing of the plastic product, results in an increase in the rate of leaching of BPA.(4)
BPA is used in packaging of infant formula, in molded plastic bottles, dinnerware and sippy cups. The current margin of safety is 5 mg/kg, but the subcommittee recommended lowering that level.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recently published a report on bisphenol A from a large-scale study where they detected BPA in the urine of nearly 93% of the 2,517 people tested. The results revealed: females had significantly higher levels of BPA in their urine than males. Children had the highest levels, followed by teens and adults. People with the lowest household incomes had higher levels of BPA than people in the highest income bracket.(2)
In a more recent study urinary levels of bisphenol A (BPA) were significantly higher in people with diagnoses of angina, coronary heart disease, and diabetes, those who had suffered heart attacks, and those with elevated liver enzymes.(15)
Scott Belcher, PhD, and his team of researchers from the Univ. of Cinicinnati, reported their research findings on BPA in January 2008. They found that when polycarbonate drinking bottles were exposed to boiling hot water, BPA was released 55 times more rapidly than before exposure to hot water. For his part, Belcher avoids polycarbonate plastic. "That's been my personal choice," he said in an article by HealthDay News.(4)
Canada has declared BPA to be a major environmental contaminant and the Health Minister Tony Clement has drafted a report on bisphenol A, "To be prudent, the government of Canada is proposing to reduce bisphenol A exposure in infants and newborns by proposing a number of actions: to ban polycarbonate baby bottles; to develop stringent migration targets for bisphenol A in infant formula cans; to work with industry to develop alternative food packaging and develop a code of practice; and to list bisphenol A under Schedule 1 of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act."
On the EPA's website, the following recommendations are made to reduce exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals: "The mounting evidence of hormone disruption in wildlife and humans serves as a starting point for efforts to reduce exposure to synthetic chemicals considered to be hormone disruptors. Making informed consumer choices, modifying eating and lifestyle patterns, and pressing for alternatives can help reduce your exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals. This Guide is intended to help you in these efforts:
To reduce your exposure to phthalates and bisphenol:
1) Do not microwave food in plastic containers or plastic wrap. Use heat-resistant glass or ceramic containers instead.
2) Avoid plastic cling wrap altogether to minimize or eliminate its direct contact with food. In particular, reduce consumption of fatty foods packaged in plastic and heat-sealed containers.
3) Discourage children from chewing on plastic. Offer wood or natural fibre toys. Select PVC- free toys whenever possible.
4) Before accepting the new plastic coating treatment for your children's teeth, ask your dentist whether it contains bisphenol A."(11)