This section summarizes the dangers of plastic containers, which we typically assume are safe to eat and drink from. It explains the symbols found on plastic containers, which is useful for identifying the different types of poisons that are leached from them -- from arsenic to petroleum. Plainly labeled on the underside of plastic containers is a number indicating the type of plastic used.
Plastic Identifier: #1 or PET
PET is a plastic that is sometimes distinguished by a #1 stamp. PET is an abbreviation for polyethylene terephthalate. It releases a chemical named antimony trioxide. This chemical toxin has been cited many times as a serious health concern, yet these concerns have been discarded by governments, who have claimed that not enough of this chemical is released to cause problems.
It is well known that antimony trioxide leaches into drinks that are bottled in PET plastics, and the longer the shelf life, the more toxic the drinks become. According to Canadian studies, typical ground water contains about two parts per trillion of antimony, but freshly bottled water averages 160 P.P.T., rising to 630 P.P.T. within 6 months. Throughout Europe, the average bottled water contains 350 P.P.T. In Germany, PET water that had been bottled for 6 months contained a huge 700 P.P.T. Antimony is very similar to arsenic. In small amounts, antimony poisoning causes headaches, dizziness, and depression. Larger doses produce violent and frequent vomiting, and may lead to death within a few days. Another compound leached by PET plastics is antimony pentafluoride, which reacts with many different compounds. These plastics are produced using hydrogen fluoride and benzene. The chemicals are so toxic during the manufacturing stage that even a small amount in contact with skin can be fatal.
Plastic Identifier: #2 or HDPE
HDPE is identified by a #2 stamp. HDPE stands for high density polyethylene, which is a thermoplastic made from petroleum. This is the safest plastic available, because it is very non-reactive.
Plastic Identifier: #3 or PVC
This plastic is one of the most hazardous. Poisonous chemicals are released throughout the life cycle of PVC, including mercury, dioxins, and phthalates. When people burn PVC products, they release dioxins producing cancers, respiratory, and reproductive problems. The fumes can cripple the immune system for years. The noticeable smell from a new car or shower curtain is the result of PVC fumes.
In July 2005, the European Parliament banned the use of PVC toys, although they are still legal in America. This material is also used in drinking bottles alongside PET, and therefore, toxins are inside most bottled drinks. Factory workers who work with this plastic face long-term health risks, including angiosarcoma of the liver, lung cancer, brain cancer, lymphomas, leukemia, and liver cirrhosis. Firefighters often face similar risks after extinguishing PVC fires, which release hydrogen chloride gas that forms deadly hydrochloric acid when inhaled.
PVC is not recyclable, due to its extremely toxic properties.
Plastic Identifier: #4 or LDPE
LDPE is the abbreviation for Low Density Polyethylene. It is virtually identical to HDPE (reference #2 above). This plastic is remarkably safe.
Plastic Identifier: #5 or Polystyrene
This is one of the safer plastics, but safe is a relative term. Since it is manufactured with benzene and petroleum, we recommend avoiding it. Styrene is itself a carcinogen.
Plastic Identifier: #7 or Other
The "other" literally means unspecified and uncategorized. This plastic could be made from anything, so always avoid these plastics. It is very common for these plastics to contain BPA.
Plastics Containing BPA
Consumer awareness groups have been on the news in recent years decrying the bisphenol-A (BPA) that leaches from plastics; especially regarding the plastics used for the drink containers of children and infants. BPA is a chemical which is known to leach out of plastics, disrupting the hormones, as well as causing brain damage, cancer, diabetes and heart problems. The great majority of plastic bottles in use today contain BPA, which some manufacturers claim does not leach into food or drinks. However, the Harvard University study, Polycarbonate Bottle Use and Urinary Bisphenol A Concentrations has shown that drinking from BPA-infused bottles increases BPA urine levels by 70%. Imagine the level for an infant who is given formula from one of these containers 6-7 times a day, every day for years, as is normal. This toxin is found in all clear, hard plastic bottles. Cloudy plastics do not contain BPA, such as milk jugs. The F.D.A. has maintained that BPA is safe after having consulted with BPA-industry lobbyists.
We recommend against the use of plastics for the storage of food and drinks. The immune system will otherwise get weakened from coping with added toxicity, in the very least.
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