SPA WELLNESS: Is plastic toxic?

New research suggests certain types may be more hazardous than previously believed.

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Are plastic waste materials hazardous to our health? Long considered an “inert” material, plastics have been classified by the U.S., Europe, Japan and other nations as “solid waste,” putting them in the same category with grass clippings and food waste. But some scientists, including San Diego State University/University of California, Davis doctoral student Chelsea M. Rochman, are urging a change.

According to recent research, including Rochman’s and co-author Mark Anthony Browne’s “Ecotoxicity of Marine Plastic Debris,” when plastic breaks down, the resulting microscopic specks contain toxic pollutants that can be inhaled or ingested by humans and animals. Scientists have designated four plastics they believe should be reclassified as “hazardous material.” They are: polyvinylchloride (PVC), used to make plastic pipes; polystyrene, aka Styrofoam; polyurethane, found in furniture and car seats; and polycarbonate, used in electronics, appliances and even baby bottles.

Supporters believe that reclassification of these plastics would result in new cleanup efforts spearheaded by environmental agencies, and more research and innovations when it comes to developing safer plastics. —Linda Kossoff