Watanabe M, Rogers JM. 2020. Introduction to “The Trouble with Plastics” special issue. Birth Defects Res 112:1297–1299.
Plastics surround us. If we move our gaze to what we use in our daily lives, there are plastics in many guises. We rely on them and would be hard pressed to live without them. Our cell phones, ear buds, credit cards, clothes, shoes, car parts, grocery bags, packaging, food containers, glasses, laboratory ware, water bottles, cigarette butts, linings metal cans, pens, medical tubing, laboratory supplies, fishing gear, toys, baby bottles, sippy cups, pacifiers, all are made up of plastics. The manufacture, use, and disposal of plastics release many long-lasting chemicals into the environment that accumulate and negatively affect flora and fauna, as well as humans. As much as we need plastics, we also need to be aware of how they impact the environment, our health, and that of our children and their children.
The authors for this special issue have tackled the “trouble with plastics” from several points of view (Figure 1). We will learn many of the ways in which plastics negatively impact our health and induce birth defects, some that may not manifest until later life. These findings should motivate us to consider with some urgency what we can do to minimize or avoid the negative impact of plastics.
Dr. Darbre (Darbre, in this issue) provides an overview of the many chemicals lurking in plastics. Bisphenol A and phthalates are added to plastics, leach from them, and disrupt many hormone systems. We breath them in, eat them, and absorb them through our skin. When we are exposed to these insidious endocrine-disrupting chemicals at a vulnerable “window of susceptibility” in utero or during early life, consequences may arise later in life in the form of reproductive difficulties, metabolic disorders, thyroid dysfunction, immune dysregulation, adverse neurobehavioral outcomes, or cancer. Dr. Darbre urges further studies to fill the many gaps in our understanding regarding how these ubiquitous chemicals affect our health and that of generations to come.
Dr. Duttaroy and team (Basak et al., in this issue) lay out an extensive review of the compounds related to plastics that can, even at low concentrations, affect the development of animal models and likely that of humans. These include “bisphenols (BPA, BPS, BPF), bis(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, and dibutyl phthalate (DBP)” and also “polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE) and tetrabromobisphenol A (TBBPA).” Plastics-derived endocrine-disrupting compounds and their alternate “safer” substitutes are showing similar adversity on reproductive development in several studies. Animal studies expose that mechanisms of action of these chemicals that leach from plastics can disturb early embryonic and placental development. Evidence is accumulating that these chemicals act through long-lasting epigenetic effects that may explain transgenerational effects.