The Plight of PP Plastic Leaching

By Brettney Perr

With the 2013 CPSIA bans on Phthalates, Lead, and PVC in children products, and with subsequent restrictions on BPA–manufacturers have turned to polypropylene, which is extensively used and currently deemed safe among other plastics. But is it really harmless?

I was doing some research for an eco-friendly baby bathtub a while back. At the time only one came up when I performed the search. The tub in question was a great concept and was touted as being “non-toxic, recyclable, energy efficient, BPA and PVC free.” I was ready to press the checkout button when I thought, “Is any plastic really eco-friendly?” Then again is any plastic really safe? So I looked into this mystery “non-toxic, recyclable, energy efficient, BPA and PVC free” plastic. Turns out it’s made out of our friendly plastic Mr.Polypropylene (PP), which is one of the most used plastics!

This #5 recyclable is what replaced the BPA and PVC in those baby bottles. It’s the plastic tub you get from the prepared foods section of your grocery store. It’s your yogurt container, the cap to your glass/steel water bottle, in addition to many, many other things, and it’s even used in Europe! So you figure it’s safe, right? Well perhaps we were wrong. An experiment by researchers in Canada had their research fouled by two compounds, quaternary ammonium biocides, and oleamide, leaching from their polypropylene equipment. The fortunate thing is that they noticed this and raised a red flag about using PP which is now being brought into question in much the same way Mr. Polycarbonate was in the early 90s according to the Environmental Working Group. I wonder about how many crucial experiments have been fouled by these products leaching unnoticed.

So what are “quaternary ammonium biocides” and “oleamide” besides hard to  pronounce?
Lets start with quaternary ammonium biocides. These are anti-bacterial compounds which have a variety of applications, including being mixed in with the plastic that holds your pro-biotic yogurt. If it does leach these compounds into your friendly bacteria colonies in a container of yogurt, doesn’t that seem like false advertising? Not to mention the effects once these get into your body and encounter the friendly bacteria that you tried hard to establish there by eating yogurt in the first place. And what happens when they leach into the environment at large? Are they killing off friendly bacteria? Do they contribute to antibiotic-resistance like most anti-bacterial hand soaps–which caused all that commotion in the news?

On to the other compound leaching from PP: oleamide. This is naturally occurring in the body and causes sleep to be induced whenever one is sleep-deprived.  Upon having insufficient sleep, it collects in the cerebrospinal fluid. If you’re like me, you may be asking why Mr. PP has this compound.  Is he being sleep deprived? Actually it’s used as a slip agent or lubricant as it were. Since this compound is found within the human body, this substance is of great concern.  What will its effect be? Perhaps it plays a role in making people lazy, hallucinate as if sleep-deprived, or the “run-of-the-mill” effect of causing cancer.

Before people go screaming into the streets that Mr. Polypropylene is the devil, what caused these compounds to leach in the first place?  This seems to remain a mystery, but the EWG reports that the Canadians were “conducting experiments on a human enzyme” and that the “substances were leaking from the plastic tubes they used to transfer liquids in the experiment.” Also there is currently research happening to see exactly what the potential effects these compounds can have on us and the environment.

So in conclusion this knowledge is yours to take and do whatever action you want to do with it. I personally did not buy the bath tub because a baby can be very susceptible to these compounds. Many compounds are absorbed directly through their thin skin.  Regardless, I saved money on not getting one anyways; however I still come in contact with this plastic almost daily, so I anxiously await the results on its overall safety (as do product injury lawyers it seems.)  More info can be found at Lawyers and, The Environmental Working Group(EWG), Gaiam, and lastly a report of the leaching study here.