Plastic is fantastic... a phrase that resonates in a new light. If this miracle material is now omnipresent in our daily lives, it now raises public health questions because of the additives it contains.
Because of their mechanical properties, such as transparency, flexibility and impact resistance, plastic polymers are used in a very large number of applications: clothing, bottles, technological objects, resins, bags, pens, can linings ...
In which quantities are plastic materials produced?
In which quantities are plastic materials produced?
An estimate made in 2017 indicated that more than 9.1 billion tons had been produced worldwide, or 1.21 tons per capita. The production of plastic is increasing every year and reached a record with 359 million tons manufactured in 2018, or more than 47 kg per human living on earth!
An astronomical quantity which makes plastic the first source of pollution worldwide.
Why do plastics pose a risk to humans and the environment?
Plastics are obtained from oil, the extraction, refining and processing of which are industrial activities that are highly polluting for the environment. But to fully understand the health impact of plastic pollution, it is necessary to look into their manufacture and the use of additives that give them the mechanical properties so much sought-after by manufacturers.
Polymers are chains of identical organic molecules (propylene, ethylene, styrene...) chemically bound together. This structure is very stable and explains in part the resistance and low biodegradability of plastics.
To improve the mechanical properties, additives are added, however these additives do not form chemical bonds with the polymer. For this reason, the degradation of the plastics releases these additives in the first place.
What are the most toxic additives in plastics?
Plasticizers such as phthalates and bisphenols are among the most widely used additives in the industry and can account for up to 50% of the mass of plastic. Several of these additives are now classified as substances of high concern for human health by the European Union.
What are the main effects of plastic pollution on human health?
Exposure to plasticizers such as phthalates and bisphenols is not without risk for humans because they have proven effects on human health, including asthma, fertility and disruption of the functioning of the endocrine system responsible for the production and regulation of hormones in the body.
- DEHP: Di-Ethyl-Hexyl-Phthalate is the most widely used plasticizer. It is classified as a reprotoxic substance (acts on fertility) and endocrine disruptor by the European Union. It is considered a Substances of Very High Concern (SVHC).
- DBP and DiBP: Di-Butyl-Phthalate and Di-iso-Butyl-Phthalate are classified by the European Union as reprotoxic, endocrine disrupting and suspected to be persistent and bioaccumulative. They are both considered Substances of Very High Concern (SVHC).
- BBP: Butyl-Benzyl-Phthalate is classified as a reprotoxic and endocrine disrupting substance by the European Union. It is considered a Substances of Very High Concern (SVHC).
- BPA: Bisphenol-A is classified as a reprotoxic and endocrine disrupting substance by the European Union. It is considered a Substances of Very High Concern (SVHC).
- BPS: Bisphenol-S is one of the main substitutes for BPA. It is suspected to be endocrine disrupting.
It should be remembered that for substances with an endocrine disrupting effect, it is not the dose that makes the poison and that they act on the hormonal functioning of the body from very low doses of exposure.
What are the main sources of exposure to plasticizers?
In our daily lives, water and food are often considered important sources of exposure to plasticizers. Indeed, additives migrate from plastic containers to the food they contain. This migration is all the more important if the plastic is heated.
The air we breathe is also contaminated with significant amounts of these plasticizers. Since we spend more than 80% of our time in buildings where the air is more polluted than outside air, the indoor environment is also a very important source of exposure to these toxic substances.
Phthalates and bisphenols are semi-volatile organic compounds that are present in dust. The finest dust with a diameter of less than 10 µm (micrometer, 1 mm = 1000 µm) enters the body and impacts its functioning. Among the organic pollutants in the indoor environment, phthalates are the most present and are found at extremely high concentrations of a few mg/g of dust (milligram per gram).
Who are the people most impacted by exposure to plastic pollution?
Most plastic additives have a proven endocrine disrupting character. Consequently, everyone is concerned by the effects of exposure to plasticisers. Pregnant women, foetuses and young children are particularly sensitive to the effects of endocrine disruptors and must therefore limit their exposure as much as possible.
The most common plasticizers such as DEHP, DBP, DiBP and BPA are toxic to reproduction. As they affect human fertility, men and women of childbearing age who wish to have children must be concerned about their exposure to plastic additives because they decrease fertility (spermatogenesis disorders, difficulty in nesting embryos ...) and reduce the chances of natural conception.
Moreover, these substances can also have effects on the foetus and induce congenital malformations, growth and development delays.
How to assess the plastic pollution of one's home or office?
Laboratory analysis of a dust sample is the only way to detect the presence and measure the level of plasticiser pollution.
With the YOOTEST Plasticizer kit, this analysis is today accessible to everyone to assess the pollution of the indoor environment by the most common plastic additives and the most harmful to human health.