June 22, 2017

How to Avoid Phthalates

As you may have heard, one of the things that appears to cause food allergies is heating food in plastic. This is usually done in the microwave and also applies to putting hot water, drinks or food in plastic containers. 
A review of studies in the June 2014 issue of Annals of Allergy says heat causes a chemical to leach out of the plastic into the food, and this chemical has been linked to allergies and endocrine disruption. (link at the end of this article)
It is also a component of PVC (vinyl) and can come into the environment from vinyl floor or wall coverings, car interiors, shower curtains, etc.
There is research on the site https://www.lifewithoutplastic.com/store/ca/is_silicone_a_plastic#.WUxHRBPytE4  that indicates silicone may be bad also, especially when combined with heat or oil.

I don't want to be like most writers and put a lot of scary stuff first to freak you out. I write these posts to help. So I'm going to describe the precautions I've taken and which you might take. Then more details of the review for those interested.

People are always saying stuff is bad for you. It comes in fads, "don't do this common thing! It will kill you!" :o
So even though I'd heard mention of not heating food in plastic, I didn't take it seriously until I read the review in the Allergy Journal. It had been published in June 2014, but I didn't read it until a year later.

Since I already have too many allergies, I started taking precautions right away. Some of the things I changed:

1. Store, freeze and microwave food in glass containers, not plastic - I wasn't able to find containers that don't have plastic or silicone lids. I let the food cool before putting the lid on. To reheat food I remove the plastic or silicone lid and cover it with a paper towel.

2. Phthalates are used to make plastic flexible - like in plastic wrap. I switched to wax paper. It's amazing how much fresher my bread is! Wax paper does a *much* better job of keeping bread fresh! I don't know why anyone ever used plastic wrap. Even without the dangers, I would never switch back. 

*The only thing is, use regular wax paper.* "Natural" wax paper is made with soy wax! 
Yikes! If you ever use "natural" wax paper, please make sure that no one who is allergic to soy will come in contact with the food or the paper.

The wax paper does get greasy. I wrap my bread in wax paper, then put it in a plastic bag or container.

3. Plastic is dangerous, and silicone appears to be dangerous. Aluminum is thought to be a factor in Alzheimer's. So the options for cooking utensils are wood, stainless steel, and porcelain. The easiest of these to use is wood. They're easy to get and don't scratch your pans. I have wood spoons, turners, and a wood spatula I use when I make bread.

4. I never liked my plastic dish rack. It got moldy, and I'm allergic to mold. I looked for a while and found a stainless steel dish rack that works well and is much nicer looking too. I also had a plastic colander. Oops! I had some luck and found a nice stainless steel colander at Marshalls. It works well. :) 

Stainless steel is an excellent thing to use! If anything leaches out of it it will be minerals we need anyway, like iron and copper. It's lightweight and durable and easy to clean. If we could put it in the microwave, we'd never need anything else!

5. Stainless steel water bottles - they are pricey, but will last forever. I invested in three which are going strong. The ones I got have stainless steel inside the lid too, so the water never comes in contact with anything but steel.I like the ones with a wide mouth that are easier to clean.

5. Stainless steel flatware - I keep some in my desk at work to eat my lunch. No plastic forks in hot food for me!

6. Natural cosmetics, hair and personal products, and air fresheners - I had already stopped using non-natural lotions, deodorants, moisturizers because they irritated my skin and I was concerned about the chemicals in air fresheners. The chemical fragrances in many products contain phthalates, which can be absorbed through the skin. Use products with natural scents or unscented.
Lately some scented cosmetics are labelled "phthalate-free". I would still be cautious. They are still chemical scents and may have other things that are bad for health.
7. plastic water bottles - the review says the plastic bottles in which water is sold are for one-time use. They should not be re-used or have water in them longer than a few months. It's best to use your own glass or stainless steel bottle whenever possible.

8. That nasty smell when you unwrap a new vinyl shower curtain is partly phthalates. I've been using PEVA shower curtains. They have no odor and no phthalates. :)

9. Phthalate-free plastics - I gather from the internet that the government banned phthalates in children's toys. Also many companies are offering items made of phthalate-free plastic.This may be safer, but who knows what undiscovered toxins are still in the plastic? I think it's best to avoid plastic whenever possible, especially if it comes in contact with food, and for toys that children put in their mouths. I would not give a baby anything made of flexible plastic even if it's "phthalate-free".
The internet mentions glass baby bottles with silicone nipples. I would look for an alternative to the silicone nipples.

This history site says the first nipple was made of rubber. Before that they used ceramic feeding jars that were small at one end.

This site shows wood, rubber, and cloth teething toys.
It also says silicone is safe, but I would try to avoid it.

I wonder if a baby would teeth on stainless steel? I didn't see any official teethers, but if you can find a small stainless steel item with no points or sharp edges you can try it. :) 

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Here are the technical details...

Phthalates come off of PVC (vinyl) and cause allergies. Vinyl floor and wall coverings can get phthalates on people. This can cause food allergies in small children who touch the vinyl and then put their hands in their mouth. People who work with PVC - for example, cutting PVC pipes - can get occupational asthma from the dust or contact dermatitis (hives).

The article divides the phthalates by molecular weight. 
The higher-weight ones are used as plasticizers to make products like PVC and plastic wrap flexible.
The lower-weight ones are used in cosmetics, medicines, candles, air fresheners, adhesives, solvents, waxes, inks and insecticides.They were found to be common in scented cosmetics and perfumes.

Phthalates are a component of dust and were found to be more common indoors, including inside cars, than outdoors.
Vinyl floor and wall coverings were found to be releasing phthalates into the air. Newness and dampness probably accelerate this.

Phthalates have been found in the systems of pregnant women and their babies while in the womb.
Lab experiments indicate trans-generational health effects from phthalates.

Babies and children ingest phthalates from chewing or mouthing toys and other objects, and phthalates can also be in food that was prepared in plastic and milk, including breast milk if the mother has been exposed to them.

Studies have shown a link between this phthalate exposure and the development of allergies.

Here is the link to the article. The summary doesn't mention most of the details I've listed here.