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Plastics Reports

Health Impacts from Plastics Manufacturing and Use


Plastic production (primarily polypropylene and ethylene) begins at the wellhead, coal mine, or drill pads, because 99 percent of all plastic is manufactured from fossil fuel feedstock. There is no true grave for plastics as most never totally decompose but instead just break into smaller and smaller pieces, which can be found in the air, water, aquatic food chains, soils, and even our human bodies.


  • The process of fracking carries with it multiple layers of toxicity, including exposure to air pollutants from flaring, fugitive emissions, and compressor stations. The air pollutants include: ozone, volatile organic compounds, particulate matter, and BTEX.


  • Additional exposures result from produced water (fracking wastes) containing salts, chemicals, and radionuclides, which are spread on roads or dumped into waterways or landfills. Over 170 fracking chemicals are used in frack fluids, including benzene and organic compounds. These have known health effects, including cancer, neuro-, reproductive, and developmental toxicity.


  • Refining and manufacturing of virgin polymers (resin) combines them with additional petrochemical additives (bisphenol A, lead, brominated flame retardants) which cause nervous system disorders, reproductive impairments, developmental problems, and cancer and genetic impacts. These conditions result from inhalation, ingestion, and dermal absorption. Plastic production also uses other toxic chemicals such as 1,3-butadiene, benzene, styrene, toluene, ethane, propylene and propylene oxide. These chemicals can be colorless and odorless but are often carcinogenic. Carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) like anthracene are found in higher concentrations along “fence line” communities located adjacent to industrial sites.


  • Consumers who use plastics are exposed to toxic plasticizers used to make plastics. These can leach out of plastic into our foods, especially when plastics are exposed to UV light, heat, and acidic or alkaline foods. Micro plastics found in personal care products can contaminate water supplies when they are washed down the drain. These small particles are believed to migrate across body membranes to the gastrointestinal tract, circulatory system, and lungs.


  • Fibers from textiles can be inhaled and also contaminate water from washing machine discharge water. Another source of water contamination from micro plastics is car tire abrasion.Some of these compounds (phenol and benzene) can cause genetic mutation and some are carcinogens. We are exposed via inhalation, ingestion, and dermal absorption.


  • Humans have produced over 8.3 billion tons of plastics. Today, 60 percent of plastics end up in landfills, 12 percent is incinerated, and 9 percent is recycled. Incineration, as well as plastic-to-fuel processes, emits toxic substances like dioxins, furans, and heavy metals. Recycling exposes workers to toxic substances and pathogens that hitchhike on plastic surfaces.


Source: Plastic and Health: The Hidden Costs of a Plastic Planet, February 2019

Plastics and Health

Plastics are ubiquitous. The Center for International Environmental Law describes how plastic is irreversibly altering our bodily functions. 

Image by The New York Public Library
Plastic and Climate

From fossil fuel extraction to waste disposal, plastic production and use emits massive amounts of greenhouse gases. 

Image by Hermes Rivera
Microplastics in the Human Diet

Researchers estimate that the average person consumes more than 74,000 particles of plastic each year.

Image by Joshua Fuller
Plastics in the Atmosphere

More than 1,000 tons of atmospheric microplastics – equivalent to more than 123 million plastic water bottles – rain down onto protected areas in the western U.S. each year.

Recycling Bottles
The Dangers of BPA

Common BPA substitutes can affect the developing fetus and cause hypertension in later life, a new study finds. Most humans are exposed to BPA and BPA substitutes on a daily basis.

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