If Pregnancy Is In Your Future... Beware Of Plastic

A chemical commonly present in plastic containers might interfere with how a woman's eggs mature, increasing her risk of miscarriage and her future children's risk of Down's syndrome and related disorders. Researchers at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio recently discovered that exposing unfertilized mice eggs to bisphenol A, or BPA, a compound found in polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resin, can disrupt a cellular process called meiosis, which sometimes creates eggs with the wrong number of chromosomes.

BPA is an ingredient in polycarbonate, a material that manufacturers make into many transparent, hard plastic products, from food containers, water bottles, and baby bottles to refrigerator shelving, CDs, nail polish, and artificial teeth. The compound lines metal food cans, and dentists apply it as a coating to protect against cavities. BPA can leach out of plastic as the material ages or upon exposure to microwaves or harsh detergents, such as dishwasher detergent.

Although researchers have not yet uncovered a direct correlation between BPA exposure and human health, other studies in conjunction with the Case Western Reserve research indicate "there's every reason to be real cautious" about polycarbonate plastics, according to Patricia Hunt, PhD, primary author of the study. On the basis of other studies, Hunt believes that BPA may also lead to the development of malignant breast tissue and other cancers of the reproductive organs of humans. "I feel quite strongly that [bisphenol A] is potentially hazardous to the reproduction of our species," says Hunt, adding that many people drink from the type of plastic water bottle she used in her laboratory experiments.

Although buying products made with BPA is almost unavoidable, says Hunt, you can limit your exposure to the compound by forgoing activities that leach the chemical from plastic containers. Take care not to put plastics in the dishwasher or the microwave. Instead, Hunt advocates washing plastics by hand and microwaving food in glass.

—Sarah Toland