PANAJI: From teethers to bottles, the use of has become such an integral part of our lives, that it seems impossible to kick the habit. However, doctors and studies warn that if used wrongly, plastics can be carcinogenic. They advise special caution over what plastics children, in particular, are introduced to.
Cancer surgeon Dr Shekhar Salkar, who heads the department of oncology at Manipal Hospital, Dona Paula, says users need to refrain from the common practice of heating foods while still in plastic containers.
“Consuming food heated in a plastic container, or boiling plastic in any way, or inhaling fumes of burning plastic can be carcinogenic. Only high-quality plastic employed for medical purposes can be heated for sterilisation,” Salkar says.
Burning plastic is known to give out hazardous emissions, including hydrogen chloride, dioxin, and cadmium. Dioxin can affect normal functioning of the reproductive and immune systems, according to researchers.
Though Salkar says studies have not yet been able to conclusively prove that eating food stored in plastic containers can cause cancers, many nations, including the United Arab Emirates, have issued advisories asking citizens to avoid use of plastic teethers for infants and to stop storing acidic or fatty foods in plastic containers, among other things.
Indian researchers Neeti Rustagi, S K Pradhan, and Ritesh Singh, in their paper published in 2011 by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, USA, have long pointed out to similar health effects caused by irresponsible use of plastics.
“Exposure to harmful chemicals during manufacturing, leaching of stored food items in plastic packages, or chewing plastic teethers and toys are linked with adverse health outcomes such as cancers, birth defects, impaired immunity, endocrine disruption, developmental and reproductive effects etc,” the paper states.
The researchers explain that although the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) has published three regulations that deal with the safety aspects of toys, none of these give limits for phthalates (a component of plastic) in toys and childcare articles. Also, these guidelines on toy production are self-regulatory and not mandatory.
“Whether carcinogenic or not, it is proven beyond doubt that plastics cause damage the environment in a number of ways and it is best to reduce its use in daily life as much as possible,” Salkar says.
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