Quantcast

‘Plastic Is Lethal’: Groundbreaking Report Reveals Health Risks at Every Stage in Plastics Life Cycle

Health + Wellness
A new study reveals the health risks posed by the making, use and disposal of plastics. Jeffrey Phelps / Getty Images

With eight million metric tons of plastic entering the world's oceans every year, there is growing concern about the proliferation of plastics in the environment. Despite this, surprisingly little is known about the full impact of plastic pollution on human health.

But a first-of-its-kind study released Tuesday sets out to change that. The study, Plastic & Health: The Hidden Costs of a Plastic Planet, is especially groundbreaking because it looks at the health impacts of every stage in the life cycle of plastics, from the extraction of the fossil fuels that make them to their permanence in the environment. While previous studies have focused on particular products, manufacturing processes or moments in the creation and use of plastics, this study shows that plastics pose serious health risks at every stage in their production, use and disposal.


"The heavy toxic burdens associated with plastic—at every stage of its life cycle—offers another convincing argument why reducing and not increasing production of plastics is the only way forward," report co-author and Break Free From Plastic Movement (BFFP) Global Coordinator Von Hernandez said in a press release. "It is shocking how the existing regulatory regime continues to give the whole plastic industrial complex the license to play Russian roulette with our lives and our health. Plastic is lethal, and this report shows us why."

The report was a joint effort by the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), Earthworks, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA), Healthy Babies Bright Futures (HBBF), IPEN, Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (t.e.j.a.s.), University of Exeter, UPSTREAM and BFFP. It explains in depth how each stage in the plastics life cycle puts human health at risk.

1. "Extraction and Transport of Fossil Feedstocks for Plastic": The extraction of the oil and gas needed to make plastic releases toxic chemicals into the air and water. The chemicals used to produce plastic feedstock via fracking are particularly dangerous: More than 170 of them can cause documented health problems including cancer and damage to the nervous and immune systems.

2. "Refining and Production of Plastic Resins and Additives": The process of refining fossil fuels into plastic resin releases toxic chemicals into the air that can cause cancer and damage the nervous system, among other issues. Industrial workers and communities near refineries are especially at risk.

3. "Consumer Products and Packaging": Plastic products themselves can harm their users both in the form of microplastics that break off from the larger product and chemicals contained in the product that can cause cancer and developmental problems, as well as disrupt the hormone system.

4. "Toxic Releases from Plastic Waste Management": Every method for eliminating plastic waste, such as incineration and gasification, releases acid gases, organic substances like dioxins and furans and toxic metals like lead and mercury into the air, soil and water. This is also particularly dangerous for plant workers and surrounding communities.

5. "Fragmenting and Microplastics": As plastics break down, they release tiny fragments into the environment that humans can swallow or inhale. Doing so can cause problems like inflammation, genotoxicity, oxidative stress, apoptosis and necrosis, which can lead to cancer, heart disease, diabetes, stroke and other potentially deadly or chronic ailments.

6. "Cascading Exposure as Plastic Degrades": The chemicals added to plastics easily spread into the surrounding environment as the plastic breaks down, posing an ever-increasing risk to water, soil or body tissue where plastic is present.

7. "Ongoing Environmental Exposure": Plastic degrading in the ocean or on land builds up in the food chain as it is ingested by larger and larger animals. The plastic both leaches the chemicals it already contained into the environment and accumulates other toxic chemicals present in the environment as it works its way up the food chain.

In order to combat the problem, the report recommends treating plastic exposure as a human rights issue, making sure every stage in the plastic life cycle is addressed, drafting laws that require accurate information about what goes into plastics during all stages of production, ensuring transparency in the development of solutions and making sure that solutions take into account the global reach of plastic production and proliferation.

Other organizations who work on plastic pollution have praised the report for its in-depth investigation of the crisis.

"This new report provides further evidence of plastic's detrimental effects on a global scale—and it's more personal than ever," Oceana chief policy officer Jacqueline Savitz said in a statement. "Plastic is impacting human health through every single stage of its life cycle, from extraction and production to consumer use, and it is entering our food chain. The risks to human health begin long before plastic even makes it onto store shelves, providing yet another reason why waste-management efforts alone can't reverse this crisis. We need companies to take responsibility for plastic's effects on our health and the environment, stop wasting time with false solutions and turn to sustainable alternatives to plastic before it's too late."


Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Pexels

By Makayla Meixner

Black pepper is one of the most commonly used spices worldwide.

Read More Show Less
Many common snack foods have been expertly engineered to keep us addicted. Karen M. Romanko / Photolibrary / Getty Images

By Melissa Kravitz

Can't stop eating that bag of chips until you're licking the salt nestled in the corners of the empty package from your fingers? You're not alone. And it's not entirely your fault that the intended final handful of chips was not, indeed, your last for that snacking session. Many common snack foods have been expertly engineered to keep us addicted, almost constantly craving more of whatever falsely satisfying manufactured treat is in front of us.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Hannes Kutza / EyeEm / Getty Images

By Kim Knowlton

A new paper just out in The Lancet Planetary Health provides the first global indication that recent temperature increases, propelled by climate change, are in fact contributing significantly to longer and more intense pollen seasons.

Read More Show Less
Jordan Siemens / Taxi / Getty Images

EcoWatch is pleased to announce its second photo contest! Earth Day is happening on April 22nd, and this year's theme is "Protect Our Species." With that in mind, we want EcoWatchers to show us your photographs of creatures that inhabit Earth. Send us your best photos of species you value.

Read More Show Less
A new study based on data from the Energy Information Agency found that coal plants are now far more expensive to run than wind and solar power projects. reynermedia / CC BY 2.0

By Julia Conley

In propping up the coal industry, the Trump administration is not only contributing to dangerous pollution, fossil fuel emissions and the climate crisis, it is also now clinging to a far more expensive energy production model than renewable energy offers.

That's according to a new report from renewable energy analysis firm Energy Innovation, showing that about three-quarters of power produced by the nation's remaining coal plants is more expensive for American households than renewables including wind, solar and hydro power.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Cars piled up in the Iranian city of Shiraz after flash flooding swept through the city. AMIN BERENJKAR / AFP / Getty Images

At least 19 people have died and more than 100 have been injured in flash flooding in the south of Iran, the country's semi-official Tasnim News Agency said. The city of Shiraz in Fars province was the worst hit by the flooding, which occurred after a month's worth of rain fell in a few hours, CNN meteorologist Taylor Ward said.

Read More Show Less
Two Sherpa descending from Everest Base Camp, Himalayas, Khumbu, Nepal. Joel Addams / Aurora Photos / Getty Images

Climate change is having a grizzly effect on Mount Everest as melting snow and glaciers reveal some of the bodies of climbers who died trying to scale the world's highest peak.

Read More Show Less
Navajo Generating Station, Arizona. Wolfgang Moroder / Wikimedia / CC BY-SA 3.0

The Navajo Nation has decided to stop pursuing the acquisition of a beleaguered coal-fired power plant in Arizona, locking in the plant to be taken offline and its associated coal mine to close later this year.

A Navajo Nation Council committee voted 11-9 last week to stop pursuing the purchase of the 2,250-megawatt Navajo Generating Station, which with the Kayenta coal mine provides more than 800 jobs to primarily Navajo and Hopi workers as well as tribal royalties.

A coalition of utilities that own the plant said in 2017 it would cease operations due to increased economic pressure, and the plant's future has proved a flash point for national and regional energy policy and raised larger questions on how Native communities will handle ties to fossil fuel industries as the economy changes.

For a deeper dive:

Arizona Republic, Indian Country Today, AP, WOKV, Farmington Daily Times

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, and sign up for daily Hot News.