Q: I’ve read several articles about alarming issues concerning the use of plastic bottles, including information that dioxin is released each time you squeeze a mineral-water bottle. In addition, phthalates—added to children’s plastic toys to soften the plastic—have been completely banned in Denmark because of their possible toxicity. Your point of view on these common products would be awesome! —Chaz Martineau via e-mail
A: The word “plastic” encompasses a wide variety of compounds that have varying toxicity. Greenpeace has put together an excellent explanation of all the different types and their relative safety. (This also links to a database of non-PVC building materials.)
I haven’t read anything about dioxin being released when you squeeze a mineral-water bottle. As plastics go, clear, hard plastic bottles are much safer than cloudy, soft plastic bottles for water storage. And whatever minute amount of substances that may leach into bottled water need to be weighed against the many contaminants found in tap water.
Phthalates, however, are a problem. They have been found to cause birth defects in male reproductive organs, to cause liver and kidney damage, and to disrupt hormonal systems in children. In response, several European nations have banned PVC toys that release phthalates, while U.S. toy distributors are still debating the issue. I would not give a child a PVC toy.
Debra Lynn Dadd is an internationally known expert on healthy home environments and author of Home, Safe Home (Putnam, 1997).