Children's Bodies Contain Alarming Levels of Plastic Chemicals

Public Domain. Unsplash / Tanaphong Toochinda

A German study reveals that we're doing a poor job of keeping of safeguarding children's health when it comes to plastic.

A German study has found that many children between the ages of 3 and 17 have alarmingly high levels of plastic in their bodies. The 'human biomonitoring' study was commissioned by the German Environment Ministry and the Robert Koch Institute, and it btracked urine samples of 2,500 children between 2014 and 2017. Ninety-seven percent of the samples tested positive for plastic byproducts, and traces of 11 out of 15 plastic ingredients were detected.

Most concerning for scientists was the presence of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a chemical that is commonly used in non-stick cookware, waterproof clothing, fire-fighting foams, stain-resistant carpets, ski wax, and some paper and cardboard packaging. PFOA is favored in many industries because it's effective and stable, but this also means that it takes a long time to break down. Twenty percent of the children revealed PFOA levels higher than what is considered safe. The pending EU ban on PFOA, due to take effect in 2020, can't come soon enough.

Younger and poorer children tended to have higher levels of chemicals in their bodies. This is concerning because younger children are even more sensitive to chemical exposure than older ones. Bettina Hoffman, a Green Party environmental health expert, told Der Spiegel,

"It can't be that every fourth child between three and five years old is so heavily burdened with chemicals that long-term damage cannot safely be ruled out. The Federal Government must make every effort to protect people from harmful chemicals. Provision is an obligation."

The researchers saw an increase in chemicals that have been substituted for previously banned substances. Hoffman insists that more research is needed: "Substances that are classified as dangerous should not be replaced by similar chemicals with likewise questionable properties." She calls for greater investigation into the pathways through which plastic byproducts enter the human body. Although research into the health effects of plastic chemicals is far from comprehensive, they are known to harm the liver, reproductive system, and hormone functioning, as well as contribute to obesity and developmental delays.

Children come into frequent contact with plastic through their toys, food containers, food, clothing, medical devices, skin care products, and playing on synthetic surfaces such as carpet. Parents can make an effort to reduce children's exposure to plastic, but what we really need is tighter regulations and government oversight to create a safer environment for future generations to grow and thrive.