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Plastic and health


Key Takeaways

  • Plastic is bad for our bodies
  • Every week we unknowingly ingest one credit card’s worth of plastic 
  • Plastics have toxins such as BPA and PFAS that aren’t properly regulated.
  • Waste management of plastic further exposes us to its toxicity.

What you can do to help:

  • Reduce your use of plastic, including synthetic fibers
  • Support legislation to reduce plastic by contacting your legislators
  • Spread the word that plastic is dangerous for our health



Plastics – combination of petrochemicals and chemical additives. 

Microplastics – small pieces of plastics less than 5 mm long.

Chemical Additives – Chemicals added to prolong the lifespan, reduce friction in processing, or achieve the desired physical or chemical properties in the final product.

Health risks of plastic production

99% of plastic is derived from fossil fuels. The extraction of oil, coal, and fracked “natural” gas (methane) releases large volumes of toxic substances into the air and water.

Additional toxic chemical additives in the manufacturing process are released into the air during production and have direct, documented adverse impacts on skin, eyes, lungs, GI tract, liver, nervous system, and the brain.

Plastics and fossil fuel industry workers, and the residents of communities where these industries are located, are disproportionately impacted at the production stage in the plastics’ lifecycle.

Health risks of plastic use

Use of plastic products leads to unintentional ingestion and inhalation of microplastic particles and hundreds of toxic additives with known or suspected carcinogenic, developmental, and endocrine-disrupting impacts.

The health impacts of microplastics are not known, but microplastics are ubiquitous in the environment, including in the air and in drinking water.

The toxic chemical additives have many known adverse health impacts, and we ingest those toxins when we use plastic or plastic-containing products.

An everyday action as simple as washing your synthetic clothes releases microplastics and toxic additives into the municipal water supply through abrasion of fabrics during the wash cycle.

Health risks of plastic waste management

There is no way to produce plastics without the use of toxic chemicals, and no way to dispose of plastics without the release of those same chemicals into the environment.

All plastic waste management technologies (including recycling, incineration, and landfill) result in the release of toxic substances into the air, water, and soil. These include: PFAS, nitrous oxide, VOCs, benzene, carbon monoxide, PCBs, methane, aldehydes, lead, mercury, dioxins, furans, and phthalates.

Workers and surrounding communities are most severely impacted, but these chemicals can be picked up by plants grown in contaminated soil or spread via the water supply where they concentrate in marine wildlife.

Fish, herring, lobster, krill, oysters, mussels, shrimp, and barnacles have all been found to have measurable amounts of microplastics in their tissues. Even municipal water supplies have been found to be contaminated with microplastics. 

The adverse health effects of environmental contamination with plastics and plastics additives are far-reaching and persistent because once plastic and its additives are in the environment there is no simple way to remove them or destroy them.


Bisphenol-A (BPA) is only one of the hundreds of toxic chemicals found in plastic.

Plastic manufacturers voluntarily reduced the use of BPA when it was shown to be a synthetic hormone that mimics estrogen, having adverse effects on the development of the brain, breast, and prostate.

Before BPA usage was reduced, the CDC found that 93% of Americans 6 years of age and older had measurable levels of BPA in their bloodstreams.

The FDA still has not moved to ban BPA from plastic production, and it is only one of the hundreds of toxic additives we are ingesting every day. Many of these chemicals, like BPA, are endocrine disruptors that result in abnormal development of multiple organ systems, metabolic disorders, infertility, and cancer.

The truth is that there are simply too many chemical additives in plastics and too many different combinations to be able to attack each additive one by one.



There is a class of chemicals called PFAS (Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) that makes things soft and slippery. It’s in Teflon cookware, cosmetics, textiles, carpets, artificial turf, the waxy lining on paper food containers, and firefighting foam.

This group of chemicals is often called “forever chemicals” because they cannot be destroyed by any known means. They persist in the environment and build up in the tissues of humans and animals.

They are unfortunately ubiquitous in the environment and widely detected in human blood. 

Adverse effects include increased cholesterol levels, decreased vaccine response in children, preeclampsia, low birth weight, reproductive disruption, kidney cancer, and testicular cancer.


How to make it better

The truth is plastics are a combination of fossil fuels and toxic chemicals. They cannot be destroyed or recycled without releasing these toxic chemicals and massive amounts of carbon into the environment.

The best way to stop damaging ourselves and our environment with plastics is to ban the production of single use plastic. Without such a broad change, we are simply playing whack-a-mole with an ever-changing soup of fossil fuel and toxic chemicals.


Legislation to address this problem is in its infancy, but there are many currently proposed bills:


S.984 The Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act of 2021.


H. 869 Single Use Plastics Act: would ban single-use plastic bags, straws, wipes, nip bottles, helium balloon releases, foam packaging, plastic hotel toiletries, and black plastics primarily because they are not recyclable.

H. 878 EPR for Packaging: would require manufacturers pay packaging disposal costs, in the hopes they will reduce the use of non-recyclable materials and eventually move to reusables. Maine and Oregon were the first to pass similar laws.

Brookline Spring 2022 Warrant Articles

WA 22 bans certain products containing PFAS

WA 24 puts a 3 year moratorium on new artificial turf fields which damage the environment with microplastics and PFAS

WA 25 bans certain single use plastics




Beyond Plastics

Plastic Health Coalition

Ecology Center




Environment International PFAS health effects database

CIEL Plastic and Human Health: A Lifecycle Approach to Plastic Pollution

Harvard Unsafe levels of toxic chemicals found in drinking water for six million Americans

NPR Our ‘Toxic’ Love-Hate Relationship with Plastics