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Plastic Toxicity

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Plastic Toxicity

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Plastic products have health implications due to their toxic additives such as bisphenol A, phthalates, polyvinyl chloride, and heavy metals. Read the article below to know more about it.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Magesh Thirunavukkarasu

Published At February 25, 2019
Reviewed AtJanuary 22, 2023

What Is Plastic Toxicity?

It is nearly impossible to avoid plastics in everyday lives because they are everywhere. Everything from food and beverage containers, cosmetics containers, pens, interiors of cars, toys, bags, shoes, adhesives, lubricants, and medical devices all contain plastic. As they are not expensive and durable, plastic production by humans is very high. Furthermore, plastic is non-biodegradable and breaks down into smaller pieces. And their increasing accumulation in the environment is a threat to the planet. In addition, several studies have shown that plastic is loaded with toxic chemicals that can harm health. Plastics are made of various chemicals to improve their properties. Most of these chemicals are not bound chemically to plastic, which means they can leach out of them under small changes in temperature or light. On exposure to high temperature and light, plastic releases toxins that can evaporate in the air or get mixed in food and water. These toxins can be ingested or can be absorbed through the skin.

How Does Plastic Enter the Human Body?

The harmful chemicals in the plastic can enter the human body in the following ways:

  • Breathing and inhaling fumes near burning plastic trash.

  • Smelling plastic items that have a strong odor.

  • Applying body lotion stored in a plastic container.

  • Drinking hot beverage from a styrofoam cup.

  • Reusing plastic water bottles.

  • Eating microwaved food that has been heated in a plastic container.

  • Eating frozen food stored in a plastic container.

  • Consuming food stored in a plastic container for a long period.

  • Eating fish and other seafood contaminated with plastic toxins present in seawater.

How Does Plastic Affect Human Health?

Specific chemicals in plastic that have raised serious concern and are believed to be harmful to humans are phthalates, heavy metals (lead, cadmium, mercury), and bisphenol A (BPA).

Bisphenol A (BPA):

BPA is commonly used in making water bottles. It is a potent endocrine disruptor and one of the highest volume chemicals produced worldwide. A study found BPA in the urine of 95 % of people who participated in the study in the United States. BPA only takes about six hours to pass through the body, showing the exposure extent. However, it disrupts the normal functioning of the endocrine system in humans. As the endocrine system regulates several vital functions of the body, its disruption might cause the following problems:

Studies have shown that exposure to very low doses of BPA increases the risk of:

  • Cancer.

  • Impaired immunity.

  • Early puberty.

  • Obesity.

  • Diabetes.

  • Thyroid problems.

  • Hyperactivity.


The other chemical that has been found to leach from plastics and enters the human body is phthalates, which are used as plastic softeners. They produce soft vinyl products like blood bags, IV tubes, surgical gloves, breathing tubes, vinyl clothing, emulsion paint, flooring, printing inks, footwear, and food wrap. Unfortunately, phthalates cause adverse effects through the release of dioxins and mercury, and they are linked to the following health conditions:

  • Asthma.

  • Reproductive malformations.

  • Developmental problems.

  • Disruption of the endocrine system.

  • Cancer.

  • Hormonal imbalance and changes.

  • Infertility.

  • Immune system impairment.

Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC):

PVC is commonly used in packaging food, pacifiers, toys, water pipes, inflatable bathtubs, cosmetic and toiletries containers, tiles, and shower curtains. It can cause:

  • Cancer.

  • Birth deformations.

  • Bronchitis.

  • Ulcers.

  • Diseases of the skin.

  • Deafness.

  • Vision problems.

  • Liver problems.

  • Indigestion.

  • Genetic mutations.

Heavy Metals:

Heavy metals like lead, cadmium, mercury, bromine, and other metals are added to plastic as fillers, pigments, stabilizers, and retardants. These heavy metals are released into the atmosphere or leached into the soil and water on burning plastic waste. Exposure to heavy metals in childhood causes:

  • Impaired nervous system.

  • Kidney dysfunction.

  • Poor mental development.


Polystyrene is used in packaging meat, fish, yogurt, and cheese. Some other products made from it are foam packaging, disposable spoons and forks, building insulation, paints, serving trays and plates, disposable cups, and clear containers for storing biscuits. Polystyrene enters the body through food and is stored in body fat, and is believed to cause:

  • Eyes, nose, and ear irritation.

  • Dizziness.

  • Increases the risk of blood cancer.

Polyethylene (PET):

It is mainly used in making water bottles and soda bottles. The other products that are made using polyethylene are chewing gum, drink and coffee stirrers, plastic bags, toys, and squeezy bottles. They are suspected of being carcinogenic.


Sanitary napkins, diapers, bedding, and clothing are made using polyester. They are known to cause:

  • Eye irritation.

  • Respiratory tract problems.

  • Skin rashes.


It is mainly used in building insulation, plywood, and finishing fabric. Inhaling formaldehyde causes:

  • Cough.

  • Throat swelling.

  • Watery eyes.

  • Headaches.

  • Difficulty breathing.

  • Skin rashes.

  • Fatigue.

  • Birth deformations.

  • Genetic mutations.

Polyurethane Foam:

Polyurethane foam is used in mattresses, bedding, cushions, and pillows. It can release toluene diisocyanate and can cause:

  • Lung problems.

  • Bronchitis.

  • Coughing.

  • Skin rashes.

  • Eye irritation.


Dentures, blankets, cleaning waxes, diapers, sanitary napkins, carpets, food processors, and paints are all made from acrylic. Acrylic can cause:

  • Vomiting.

  • Loose stools.

  • Fatigue.

  • Headache.

  • Breathing problems.


It is used for non-stick coating, plumbing, and ironing boards. It can cause:

How to Reduce Plastic Pollution?

Most of the plastic produced today is for food packaging, plastic bags, and containers, which are single-use and are discarded immediately. This single-use plastic is the major contributor to plastic pollution. Some of the ways by which plastic pollution and toxicity can be reduced are:

Choose eco-friendly alternatives for plastic water bottles, such as bottles made of glass, ceramic and stainless steel.

  • Reuse bags and cups.

  • Refuse straws to drink your beverage in restaurants.

  • Do not throw plastic waste near the beaches.

  • Store food in glass or ceramic containers.

  • Avoid heating food in a plastic container.

  • Do not give plastic toys and teethers to the children.

  • Use clothing, bedding, and furniture made of natural fibers.

  • Avoid heating food or liquids in plastic or pouches because high heat allows the plastic to leach chemicals faster.


It is nearly impossible to avoid plastics because they are everywhere. They are present in food and beverage containers, cosmetics containers, pens, interiors of cars, toys, bags, shoes, adhesives, lubricants, and medical devices. Fortunately, many options exist for reducing the amount of plastic one can come into contact with. Every step can help eliminate toxic chemicals that can positively impact health by reducing the number of chemicals in the body. Furthermore, ditching plastic products will lead to less plastic demand and, therefore, less production.

Frequently Asked Questions


Do Plastics Cause Harmful Effects?

The destructive effects of plastics are listed down:
- Asthma.
- Infertility.
- Hearing disabilities.
- Vision problems.
- Immune abnormalities.
- Hormonal issue.


How Is the Body Detoxed From Plastic?

It is essential to detox the body from the chemical components of plastic by:
- Eating foods rich in antioxidants.
- Detoxify the liver.
- Store eatables in glass containers.
- Include organic fruits and vegetables in your diet.


What Are the Toxic Components of Plastic?

The toxic chemicals present in plastic are as follows:
- Bisphenol A.
- Phthalates.
- Polystyrene.
- Acrylic.
- Polyester.
- Polyvinyl chloride.


What Are the Ways to Avoid Plastic?

With a few efforts, it is possible to avoid plastics:
- Use cloth bags instead of plastic.
- Prefer paper cups and plates.
- Do not store veggies or fruits in plastic boxes.
- Change all the storage containers to glass or ceramic. 
- Use cotton pads and diapers.


Does Plastic Affect Hormone Levels?

Chemical components present in plastic may lead to hormonal imbalances in the system. In addition, plastic also interferes with the normal functioning of the estrogen hormone. Therefore, issues like irregular heartbeat, digestive disorders, fertility problems, mood disturbances, metabolic dysfunction, and thyroid problems may occur.


Does Plastic Release Toxicity if Heated?

Plastic contains harmful or toxic chemicals that disturb the human system. In addition, if it is heated, the plastic starts to release an excess amount of these chemicals. The toxic release is the same even when the plastic containers are exposed to hot water. Therefore, ensure that the foods are not reheated in plastic containers to prevent such toxicity.


Is Plastic Waste Serious

Plastic waste is usually dumped at several places, which causes a threat to many organisms on the planet. In addition, it starts polluting the air, water, and land. When human starts consuming the plants, farm, and marine animals grown in the polluted environment, several health issues develop. This cycle keeps occurring when plastics are repeatedly used and dumped.


Where Does Plastic Gets Stored in the Body?

When plastic and its chemical components enter the body, the system eliminates the harmful substance through feces and urine. However, several studies have shown that plastic components may accumulate and affect organs like the spleen, lungs, kidneys, and liver.


Does the Skin Absorb Plastic?

Skin, the largest organ of the body, has many pores. Therefore, it readily absorbs various compounds through it and transfers them to the blood. In addition, reports suggest that certain dress materials contain polyamide that repeatedly contacts the skin and enters it. In addition, several cosmetic products also contain microbeads made of plastic that damage the skin.


Is Plastic Poisonous?

Yes, plastic and its components are harmful and cause life-threatening disorders to all organisms. Humans may especially indirectly or directly consume them and are affected with lifelong complications such as cancer, heart, or other systemic illness. Plastic that contains polyvinyl chloride is considered more harmful as they are carcinogenic.


Does It Take Long To Detox From Plastic?

Plastic, in a lesser or more significant form, disrupts hormonal balance and other functions. Whenever the plastic enters the body, the system tries to remove them within a few hours or a day. Therefore, most of them are eliminated, but some may stay long within the system to cause complications.
Dr. Magesh Thirunavukkarasu
Dr. Magesh Thirunavukkarasu

Family Physician


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