Plastic packaging could be a cancerous cause for concern

Scientists have mixed opinions on the safety of cooking and eating from plastics.

Yelena Kibasova

Students relying on quick microwavable meals might want to think twice before popping in their next bowl of ravioli or soup.

People have forwarded e-mails around the Internet for years claiming that cooking in plastic containers can cause cancer.

The messages claim that when plastics are combined with heat and fat in the microwave, they release dioxins that can get into the food and eventually contaminate people’s cells. These dioxins can cause cancers such as breast cancer, they say.

Some say the warning message is a hoax, while others claim there is truth to the health precaution.

Jennifer Killinger, the director of the plastics division of the

American Chemistry Council, said it is unfortunate consumers continue to believe these hoaxes.

“There are some very able and dedicated pranksters out there,” she said.

Killinger said plastics used for microwave purposes are safe.

“The substances that are used to make the containers have to meet (Food and Drug Administration) standards before they are permitted to go on the market,” Killinger said.

She said the plastic used for these products does not contain the constituents that can emit dioxins.

According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, dioxins are formed during combustion processes, such as forest fires, burning backyard trash and manufacturing processes. Dioxins can cause cancer and can alter reproductive, developmental and immune functions.

Killinger said a microwave does not get hot enough for combustion to occur.

She said consumers should verify health claims by going on a myth-busting Web site and researching the rumor.

“When in doubt, just check the label and follow the instructions,” Killinger said.

Although William Toscano, head of the University’s Environmental Health Sciences division, said dioxins are not a risk, there still could be dangers.

“Dioxins are not the concern here,” he said. “It’s other compounds.”

Toscano said there are compounds, such as Bisphenol-A, a synthetic estrogen, which might cause changes in the body, such as menstruation in earlier adolescence.

“(These changes) could be associated with these kinds of compounds being ingested,” he said.

But Toscano said the effects of these kinds of compounds have not been tested thoroughly.

“The answer is we just don’t know,” he said. “It’s so hard to definitely describe those kinds of exposures.”

He said the effects of dioxins on humans are not totally clear, either.

“There has never been a definitive study that dioxins cause cancer in humans, but it can cause diseases like endometriosis,” he said.

Toscano advised cooking on the stove instead.

“Minimize the exposure and you minimize the risk,” he said.

Keith Ischer, an entrepreneurial management sophomore who eats about a dozen microwavable meals a week, said he has seen the warnings and isn’t worried.

“I am really not going to change the way I eat because of that,” he said. “I will continue to eat them unless something horrible comes up.”

Ischer said he has looked into FDA studies and believes the chemicals in the plastic are not toxic.

“I just don’t have the time to put into preparing a meal that takes more than five to seven minutes,” he said. “The convenience of having that meal is the reason why I eat them.”

Ischer said he is very concerned about the effects of plastic because people are exposed to plastics everywhere.