A myriad of petroleum-based chemicals go into the manufacture of plastics. Some can leach into food and drinks and possibly impact human health. Leaching increases when plastic comes in contact with oily or fatty foods, during heating and from old or scratched plastic. Types of plastics shown to leach toxic chemicals are polycarbonate, PVC and styrene.
Bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical that mimics the action of the human hormone estrogen, can leach from polycarbonate plastic. Human exposure to BPA is widespread. A Centers for Disease Control study detected BPA in the urine of 95 percent of adults sampled. Scientists have measured BPA in the blood of pregnant women, in umbilical cord blood and in the placenta, all at levels demonstrated in animals to alter development.
Hormones stimulate certain cancers. Bisphenol A has been found to stimulate prostate cancer cells and causes breast tissue changes that resemble early stages of breast cancer. One study found an association between ovarian dysfunction and higher levels of BPA in urine.
For more detailed information on this topic, download a fact sheet published in October 2005 from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.