How to reduce your exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals found in plastics, tinned food and even paper receipts

Plastics and the artificial chemicals made to produce them are hard to avoid.

But increasing understanding of the possible health impacts from the worst offenders has led the World Health Organization to recommend taking precautions to avoid them.

Shopping receipt printed on thermal paper

Shopping receipts printed on thermal paper can contain bisphenol A (BPA) — so maybe ask to go paperless instead.(ABC News)

In regards to health, chemicals known as endocrine-disrupting chemicals, or EDCs, are the most notorious.

“Chemicals can have acute and chronic effects and impact the systems of an organism,” the WHO’s website states.

The list of potential health impacts is long, including certain cancers; respiratory, metabolic and cardiovascular problems; altered nervous system and immune function; neurological and learning disabilities; and early puberty and infertility.

Research showed EDCs were present in 95 per cent of people tested.

Mark Green sitting in a laboratory.

Mark Green says of the many chemicals introduced since the late 1940s, “we now know that about 1,500 of those have these off-target or unwanted effects”.(Supplied: Mark Green)

Mark Green is an associate professor in reproductive biology at University of Melbourne, whose research focuses on understanding how environmental factors, such as endocrine disruptors, affect fertility.

Associate Professor Green said more than 800 chemicals were known or suspected EDCs that may mimic, block or interfere with the body’s hormones.

“They can interfere with our normal regulation of our body. And so that’s what could be quite dangerous about them,” he said.

While the research around EDCs is concerning, there are simple ways individuals can reduce their exposure.

Associate Professor Green said the easiest place to start was in the kitchen.

Switch out plastic food containers

Associate Professor Green recommended food stored in plastic, like takeaway containers, should be transferred to a china or glass plate or bowl before reheating.

When heated, phthalates (chemicals to make plastics more durable) and bisphenols (chemicals used in the lining of some food and beverage packaging to protect food from contamination and extend shelf life) could easily be absorbed into the food, especially if it were fatty.

The heating process could also release dioxins from the plastics that could be absorbed into the food.

“While everyone loves a good takeaway, don’t ever reheat it in the plastic container,” Associate Professor Green said.

“If you’ve ever made something like lasagne, you put it in there and you can get that orange surface [around the inside edge], it’s actually because the chemicals have come into the food.”

A metal water bottle is washed under a running tap with a brown bottle brush.

Experts advise avoiding the use of plastic containers for food and liquids for human consumption.(Adobe Stock)

Stainless steel or glass water bottles helped to reduce exposure from the chemicals used to make plastic bottles flexible.

 “It’s the squeezy plastic water bottle we’ve got here, made from things like bisphenol A, or BPA, which is the most classic one,” Associate Professor Green said.

“Try not to use this and instead replace it with something that is more durable, maybe something that’s glass, a hard tin one, and it’s not going to have the same effects or the same exposure.”

Even tinned food has a plastic lining

Experts advised reducing intake of tinned foods because plastic was widely used to line cans.

“The epoxy resin and the lining of the tin cans are made up of some of these endocrine-disrupting chemicals, so reducing our intake of foods from tins will be a good way to reduce our exposure,” Associate Professor Green said.

In the case of tinned fish, the fish itself could also be harmful.

“If the fish have come from environments that are quite polluted, then oily fish like tuna, sardines, for example, they can absorb a lot of those chemicals from their environment,” Associate Professor Green said.

“So, if you have a high consumption of those, that generally means that you’re going to get a higher ratio of EDCs and high concentration, so having some for the nutritional value but not too much.”

A bowl of red ripe tomatoes

Washing produce for consumption is advised.(Unsplash)

Washing fruit and vegetables was also advised.

“Making sure that we’re getting rid of any pesticides, herbicides and sprays that might have been put on there before consuming them,” Associate Professor Green said.

And at the end of the weekly grocery shop, avoid handling the receipt.

“When we go shopping, one of the main ways that we can be exposed is through grabbing our till receipt, because they can be absolutely covered with bisphenol A, for example,” he said.

“So, actually not printing them out, especially not touching them with wet hands or, for example, keeping them in your wallet.”

Many plastic water bottle

Modern manufacturing has meant an influx of man-made chemicals into our world.(Supplied: Unsplash)

A national approach to managing chemical use and disposal has recently been set up.

The federal government established the Industrial Chemicals Environmental Management Standard to help industry and governments manage the risks of chemical additives in plastics.

Associate Professor Green said that with the number of artificial chemicals growing, more regulation was needed.

“Of the probably 90,000 chemicals that have been man-made since the end of the Second World War, we now know that about 1,500 of those have these off target or unwanted effects,” he said.

“It’s about undertaking more studies and maybe before they get released into consumer products, that we do more thorough testing to make sure that we’re not having any detrimental effects on humans or the wildlife or our environment.”

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