by Tammera J. Karr
The first synthetic polymer was invented in 1869 by John Wesley Hyatt as a substitute for ivory. By treating cellulose, derived from cotton fiber, with camphor (both naturally occurring substances), Hyatt discovered a plastic that could be crafted into a variety of shapes and made to imitate natural materials like tortoiseshell, horn, linen, and ivory.
In 1907 Leo Baekeland invented Bakelite, the first fully synthetic plastic, meaning it contained no molecules found in nature. Baekeland had been searching for a synthetic substitute for shellac, a natural electrical insulator, to meet the needs of the rapidly electrifying United States.
Plastics Come of Age
World War II necessitated a significant expansion of the plastics industry. Almost exclusively made from fossil fuels, the market was ripe for the development of (1935) rayon, nylon as synthetic silk, used during the war for parachutes, ropes, body armor, helmet liners, and more. Plexiglas provided an alternative to glass for aircraft windows. During World War II, plastic production in the United States increased by 300%.
It wasn’t long till plastic was everywhere and thousands of products were made of plastics. But by the mid-1960s American perceptions as plastics were no longer seen as unambiguously positive. Plastic debris in the oceans was first observed in the 1960s, and Americans were becoming increasingly aware of environmental problems.
Unlike natural fibers, fur, paper, and metal, plastics last in the environment forever, breaking down into micro-plastic beads that are ingested by birds, fish and animals. Current research is finding plastic particles incorporated into the flesh of marine life and land animals. The modern reality is our lives are heavily invested in plastics, computers, cell phones, carpeting, clothing, cars, planes, phone, electrical, water…… everything we need or do has plastic involved.
Unintended consequences to our health.
As I scanned through research articles on phthalates, the common form of plastics found in animals and humans. It became clear that the government and industry websites and reports were slanted to protect industry versus human health. Over and over I saw statements like “more research needs to be done, effects are unknown at this time, small studies” …. This all reads just like the cover-up reports before the effects of agent orange on veteran, and civilian health could no longer be denied.
Red flags started waving, especially after seeing studies recently released on phthalates linked to motor skill deficiencies. This study published in February 2019 and updated again in January 2020, says.
“The findings suggest that maternal exposure to phthalates in late pregnancy could have long-lasting adverse effects on motor function in children in later childhood, particularly in girls. There was also evidence that childhood exposure to phthalates may have more harmful effects on motor function in boys.
“Almost one-third of the children in our study had below or well-below average motor skills,” says senior author Pam Factor-Litvak, Ph.D., professor of Epidemiology at the Columbia Mailman School.”
Researchers from the Department of Genetic Medicine and Development at UNIGE Faculty of Medicine published their findings in 2019 on phthalates and gene expression. This research group out of Switzerland wrote the following statement:
“Phthalates, one of the most common endocrine disruptors, are commonly used by industry in many plastic products — toys, clothing, baby bottles or even medical equipment — as well as in cosmetics. Guidelines are beginning to be imposed to limit their use; their toxic effect on the endocrine system is worrying.
Indeed, the exposure of male fetuses to phthalates can have devastating consequences for the fertility of future individuals by modifying the regulatory elements of the expression of genes responsible for spermatogenesis. …… phthalate susceptibility depends largely on the genetic heritage of each individual. These results, to be discovered in PLOS One magazine, raise the question of individual vulnerability as well as that of the possible transmission to future generations of epigenetic changes that should normally be erased during fetal development”.
Other studies from 2015 and 2017 said:
“Early childhood exposures to specific phthalates were associated with depressed thyroid function in girls at age 3, …. Phthalates, a class of chemicals thought to disrupt the endocrine system, are widely used in consumer products from plastic toys to household building materials to shampoos”.
“Early exposure in the human womb to phthalates disrupts the masculinization of male genitals, according to a study presented at the Endocrine Society’s 97th annual meeting in San Diego”.
Ok, I think I have made my point here about the unintended consequences of plastics to our environment and human health.
To real food, and the products from nature that make life sustainable.