Alarming message ?/ Under scrutiny: Discarded plastic in soil (UNCCD)

Read at : Sustainable Development Announcement List <sd-l@lists.iisd.ca>

UNCCD News issue 2.2 is online

Under scrutiny: Discarded plastic in soil

Bisphenol A (BPA), a petrochemical derivative, is used in the manufacture of plastic bottles, the interior coating of food and drink cans and other widely-used consumer products. More than 2.2 million metric tonnes of it are produced worldwide each year. BPA, an endocrine disruptor, has estrogen-mimicking properties and has been proven to cause foetal deformity and other serious disorders in rats and mice. Since the 1990s, certain governments and regulatory agencies have been working to establish whether, as suspected by some medical authorities, exposure to BPA is linked to brain disorders, reproductive problems, obesity and other diseases in humans.

Canada and Denmark, for example, have moved to ban the use of BPA in baby bottles. A number of manufacturers in Europe and elsewhere have stopped using BPA in food packaging. And the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) are convening experts in October this year to assess the safety of BPA.

Also ‘Bad for Plants and Animals’

Now, the spotlight is turning to the ever-growing prevalence of plastic in garbage piles. Concern is mounting that BPA and other components of plastic are poisoning the environment, as well. The bulk of discarded plastic does not biodegrade. Instead, sunlight gradually breaks it down into smaller and smaller particles, a process call photodegradation. But this plastic “dust” will take centuries to disappear, according to experts, and BPA and other dangerous chemicals leach out of it over time.

A widely-noted study by Tulane University, Louisiana, in 2001 demonstrated the threat of BPA’s contamination of soil to agriculture: the compound apparently interferes with nitrogen fixation at the roots of leguminous plants (peas, beans, soy, alfalfa, etc.). Buried plastic waste could thus render earth infertile.

It may well be harming earth-dependent organisms, as well. In July 2009, a review by the UK’s Royal Society of the biological effect of BPA and phthalates in plastic on worms, insects, amphibians and other creatures concluded that BPA affected reproduction in all animal groups studied.

EPA eyes BPA In late March 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency of the US government announced it was placing BPA – also found in storage bins, computers, mobile telephones and many products made of rigid synthetic materials – on its “list of chemicals of concern”.

The EPA said that “more than one million pounds” (over 450 metric tons) of BPA are released into the environment in the USA every year. Much of this winds up in the soil. The government body is now moving to determine the concentration levels of BPA in ground water, drinking water and surface water, and require plastics manufacturers in the USA to provide test data to help it evaluate possible long-term impacts on the growth, reproduction and development of aquatic organisms and wildlife.

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MY COMMENT (Willem Van Cotthem)

If this is true, I have to withdraw all my recommendations on container gardening in plastic containers.

Before doing so, I want to know how widely BPA is used in the manufacture of plastic drinks and food containers (bottles, pots, bags).   What about the billions of coca-cola, soda, lemonade and fruit juice bottles produced every year?  What about the billions of yogurt and other pots ?

Rising questions:

* How comes that international and national food safety organizations did not recognized the danger of the presence of BPA in plastic containers before?

* Why are Canada and Denmark only banning BPA from baby bottles, not from all plastic bottles?

* Why did only ‘Since the 1990s, certain governments and regulatory agencies have been working to establish whether, as suspected by some medical authorities, exposure to BPA is linked to brain disorders, reproductive problems, obesity and other diseases in humans.’, and not all the governments and agencies concerned?

* If this dangerous BPA is ‘a chemical of concern‘, present in all waste dumps of our globe and “also found in storage bins, computers, mobile telephones and many products made of rigid synthetic materials“, it must have been winding up in the soil for already some decades.  So, why took it so long for the agencies concerned to “moving to determine the concentration levels of BPA in ground water, drinking water and surface water” ?

I am looking forward for clear answers on these questions.

But one thing is clear to me: if BPA is really that dangerous chemical, set free from all those “plastic containers”, I will never drink or eat from a plastic container again.

Shall we wait and see if more news about this alarming message is coming up ?  Maybe the day will come that we continue to enjoy container gardening in BPA-free plastic containers ?

Published by

Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.