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PET (#1) Plastic May Leach Endocrine Disruptors

If you’ve been following the current toxic plastic avoidance advice, you know that recycling category #1 (PET) has been considered a safer choice.  We know it’s BPA-free, so we just use it once and recycle it, right?  Well, that assumption may be wrong.

What is PET and Where is it Found?

Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is the main ingredient in most clear plastic containers used for bottled water, soda, sports drinks, and condiments such as vinegar and salad dressing.  PET bottles are also commonly used for the packaging of cosmetic products, such as shampoo, particularly when such products are sold in clear plastic bottles.

Does PET Leach Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals?

In a review published by Environmental Health Perspectives, Leonard Sax investigated evidence that bottles made from PET may leach various endocrine disrupting phthalates.  He also considered evidence that leaching of antimony from PET containers may lead to endocrine-disrupting effects, but we’ll talk more about that in an upcoming article.

As you’ve probably noticed, “phthalate” is actually part of the PET name “polyethylene terephthalate” which begs the question about the plastic’s chemical makeup.  In response, the plastics industry has emphasized a distinction between PET and phthalates. In a letter to Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP), a spokesperson for the American Plastics Council wrote:

Plastic beverage bottles sold in the United States are made from a type of plastic known as polyethylene terephthalate (PET). Although polyethylene terephthalate (the plastic) and phthalate (the additive) may have similar names, the substances are chemically dissimilar. PET is not considered an orthophthalate, nor does PET require the use of phthalates or other softening additives. (Enneking 2006)

But is there more to the story?  Mr. Sax says there is.  He asserts that the available research suggests that phthalates are present in PET bottles, and that the concentration varies according to several factors:

  • Phthalates leach from the plastic into lower pH products such as soda and vinegar more readily than into bottled water
  • Temperature also appears to influence the leaching both of phthalates (and antimony), with greater leaching at higher temperatures
  • Combining both variations of low PH and high-heat exposure could result in an even higher leaching of phthalates
  • Variations in the composition and manufacture of PET may also influence the leaching of these substances into the contents of the bottle.  PET is typically a homopolymer, but some copolymers are also categorized as PET (copolymers have been found to be less vulnerable to degredation, thus leaching less)

The author concludes that the evidence suggests PET bottles may yield endocrine disruptors under conditions of common use, particularly with prolonged storage and elevated temperature.  And because of the widespread use of PET plastic worldwide, more research is needed to clarify how PET containers may be contaminated by endocrine-disrupting chemicals.

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Alicia Voorhies is a Registered Nurse who decided to take a break to relax and enjoy her young kids after 13 years of working with disabled adults. She began to explore the world of alternative health ideas and was immediately attracted to the mysteries of endocrine disruptors and their effect on children. In 2007 she founded The Soft Landing along with her mom and sisters to help parents provide a safe, natural home for their children without drowning in an overwhelming sea of information.

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  • Wendy

    What if your carpet is made from recycled PET bottles? Please tell me those are not the conditions that would lead to such things (she says with her heart sinking).

  • http://thesoftlanding.com thesoftlanding

    You read my mind, Wendy. I've been wondering the same thing and will be looking into recycled PET products now too.

  • alisats

    what shampoo isn't in a plastic bottle?!

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  • Janelle Sorensen

    I've been worried about PET because of antimony leaching for a while and have slowly been removing it from my list of safer plastics over the past year. With this new research regarding phthalates, I think it's time to update all of our old content. Plastics. Ug.

  • Fruitfulvine2

    You post such eye-opening stuff. I am working to eliminate plastics but this gives me even greater urgency.

  • http://thesoftlanding.com thesoftlanding

    You're right, Cerise – it is disheartening. This whole situation just reinforces how desperately we need more stringent safety qualifications for chemicals used in our food containers. Safety should be proven by chemical manufacturers BEFORE they're used in everything under the sun!

    Of the 82,000 chemicals currently being used in the U.S., only about 200 have been required to be tested for safety. It's unacceptable and we need to join forces with organizations like Safer Chemicals to create change.

    You can contact Congress today at http://org2.democracyinaction.org/o/5121/t/7923

  • http://thesoftlanding.com thesoftlanding

    I almost hated to post this info, but it needs to be done. It's time to urge parents across America to insist on safer chemical policies!

    As I mentioned in my reply to Cerise, we need to take action and contact Congress today. You can do it right now at http://org2.democracyinaction.org/o/5121/t/7923

  • http://thesoftlanding.com thesoftlanding

    Me too, Janelle – and I really just avoided PET plastic mostly because of antimony like you. This scenario certainly presents a whole new challenge to those of us who are trying to decrease our exposure to toxic plastics.

    I will tell you that I've spoken with a couple of experts in endorcrine disrupting chemicals (EDR's) and learned that they haven't found as much hormone-mimicking activity in #2 (HDPE) and #5 (PP) plastics.

  • willowsprite

    Aaargh! I really don't understand why so many things are made without testing! ('Cause it's cheap and people love cheap, I know…) but still!
    Aren't the Green to Grow bottles made of PET?

  • Cerise

    Seriously, most food & daily use products are in #1 containers. Unless you only eat or use thing you have grown yourself, you'll be hard pressed to avoid this, so this is very disheartening.

  • Janelle Sorensen

    I've been worried about PET because of antimony leaching for a while and have slowly been removing it from my list of safer plastics over the past year. With this new research regarding phthalates, I think it's time to update all of our old content. Plastics. Ug.

  • Fruitfulvine2

    You post such eye-opening stuff. I am working to eliminate plastics but this gives me even greater urgency.

  • http://thesoftlanding.com Alicia

    You're right, Cerise – it is disheartening. This whole situation just reinforces how desperately we need more stringent safety qualifications for chemicals used in our food containers. Safety should be proven by chemical manufacturers BEFORE they're used in everything under the sun!

    Of the 82,000 chemicals currently being used in the U.S., only about 200 have been required to be tested for safety. It's unacceptable and we need to join forces with organizations like Safer Chemicals to create change.

    You can contact Congress today at http://org2.democracyinaction.org/o/5121/t/7923

  • http://thesoftlanding.com Alicia

    I almost hated to post this info, but it needs to be done. It's time to urge parents across America to insist on safer chemical policies!

    As I mentioned in my reply to Cerise, we need to take action and contact Congress today. You can do it right now at http://org2.democracyinaction.org/o/5121/t/7923

  • http://thesoftlanding.com Alicia

    Me too, Janelle – and I really just avoided PET plastic mostly because of antimony like you. This scenario certainly presents a whole new challenge to those of us who are trying to decrease our exposure to toxic plastics.

    I will tell you that I've spoken with a couple of experts in endorcrine disrupting chemicals (EDR's) and learned that they haven't found as much hormone-mimicking activity in #2 (HDPE) and #5 (PP) plastics.

  • willowsprite

    Aaargh! I really don't understand why so many things are made without testing! ('Cause it's cheap and people love cheap, I know…) but still!
    Aren't the Green to Grow bottles made of PET?

  • http://thesoftlanding.com Alicia

    I know – so frustrating!

    Green to Grow bottles are made from PES, so they're perfectly fine.

  • Glass Dharma

    We live in such a chemical world, it will take time but awareness is always the first step. in the meantime, I will avoid plastics whenever possible for so many reasons…

  • Mkokopelli

    What do you think about the fabrics being made out of recycled PET plastics? I was looking at a doll that was stuffed with recycled PET. Do you think that could be dangerous?

  • Ed Byrne

    Almost all food and beverage containers are made of copolymer and stored at relatively low temperatures. Leaching is almost impossible for those items. I am concerned, however, about microwaveable containers made of PET. Most of the alternatives are worse. Aluminum cans are lined with PVC, a known carcinigen; styrene is a known carcinigen and it is useally loaded with residual monomers; the chemicals used to treat paper packaging are really toxic. The only remaining option is glass and then you have the safety hazards associated with broken glass.

  • http://thesoftlanding.com Alicia

    Hi Ed,

    I appreciate you taking the time to discuss leaching chemicals and plastic! You made a couple of points that I'd like to address:

    1. Yes, almost all food containers are made from copolymers, but shelf stable products are not always warehoused at low temperatures. And even if they were, I can tell you that almost everyone I know stores extra bottled water/sports drinks in a nice hot garage or car trunk. It's just not reasonable to assume that it's impossible for chemicals to leach from PET plastic. And who knows? PET may end up being as unstable as polycarbonate, which leaches under low temperatures.

    2. I too am concerned about microwaving any type of plastic, but especially PET food containers. What alternatives are you speaking of? If plastic, I can't speak to whether they're worse or not. I do know that silicone is highly stable and is microwavable (see my comment on glass below).

    3. In all my research, I've never come across an aluminum can lined with PVC. The lining used is a BPA-based spray on epoxy.

    4. Styrene is certainly one chemical to avoid when in its singular form or in polystyrene or styrofoam. However, styrene as a part of SAN has been shown to be a particularly stable plastic – at this point anyway.

    5. Glass is very durable when used correctly and I highly recommend it. A little common sense goes a long way to prevent breakage hazards. Glass is also very affordable and lasts for many, many years. I'm still using my Grandma's Pyrex dishes from 50 years ago!

    Alicia

  • Sally

    Mr. Sax is not a chemist. He does not know anything about PET. All of the studies he cites were of something packaged in PET, without comparison values for the material before packaging.
    PET does not contain esters of orthophthalic acid (what are normally called “phthalates”). Phthalates might have been in the bottle caps or in the processing equipment in the bottling plants.
    And not all PET contains antimony either.

  • Sally

    But glass leaches lead, my dear.

  • Used Plastic Pallet

    I'm not finished read this yet, but it's so fabulous 'n I'll back again when I was finished my job :D

  • Lisa

    I clean with vinegar that comes in a #1 plastic container. Does that mean it had phthalates in it that I am spreading all over my house?!?!?

  • Lorna

    I am hoping someone is still reading the comments and could offer an opinion for me. . .
    We are living in the Middle East and have no choice but to drink bottled water (the tap water is NOT safe). However, our only two choices are #1/PET and #7/PC bottled water (I haven’t found the supposedly safer #7/PES). Since we must drink water! and we must use bottled water, which is the lesser of the two evils–PET or PC? Please bear in mind that the water is stored and shipped in HOT conditions (136F today). We have two young boys I am most concerned about, and will be living here for two more years. Thank you for any advice you can give.

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  • Used Plastic Pallet

    I’m so love this blog, already bookmarked it! Thanks.

  • Used Plastic Pallet

    I’ll post the same information to my blog, thanks for
    ideas and great article.

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  • ROSTHCHILD

    They do test all these plastics before they become available to the public. How would they sleep at night if they thought there was a possibility we were not using the most toxic poisons known to man. You do not think its an accident that all the plastics are hormone disrupters, do you?

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