Plastics: profitability or health?

Plastics: profitability or health?

By Luis E. Sabini Fernández *

In the seas, on the soils, and at many other times in our daily lives, we have to deal with toxic substances whose manufacturers have neglected, to say the most benevolent.

Four decades ago, a deep-sea diver, Jacques Yves-Cousteau, revealed to the world - something that unfortunately was not assumed by that same world, our society -: that the seas, all the seas on the planet, had plastic suspended in their waters . Molecules sometimes microscopic, but present there, because their non-biodegradability allowed them that; continue sailing indefinitely in the oceans of the planet. Not everything was plastic material in dimensions that could not be seen. All seas also had floating plastic bags (those that with erosion become those loose molecules) that turtles often mistook for jellyfish and ingested to initiate their own premature agony.

It does not take a specialist to register nowadays that all the fields, that sacred place, seat of most of our food, because almost all our vegetables are nourished from the ground and a good part of our animal nutrition is absolutely invaded with materials. plastics.

Nothing as sad as seeing, for example, a field cultivated with organic criteria, making a bed with humus, protecting the seedbed with moistened sawdust and, at the same time, seeing everywhere shreds of bags or remains of polyethylene, pipes plastics, waste from a pot, a film used as a support or base for a blanket or remains of bags, half buried, festooning the beds or "planks" so prepared. All those pieces or remains of polystyrene, polyvinylchloride (PVC), polyethylene, PET, propylene, etc., over time they release their softeners, the fearsome phthalates, carcinogens, or molecules all of them "naturally" toxic.

In countries like Germany, of course, not in countries like Argentina or Uruguay, investigations have been carried out on what is technically designated as "migrations." * In the case of packaging, it is the release of substances that pass (unexpectedly) to the food. It is not the passage of tannins from the oak vessel to the wine, perfectly sought after. Or even from zinc to drinking water in contact with a galvanized sheet, so that the water provides those who drink it with a trace element that can be scarce in the diet. No, the migrations from plastics to food are something that happened unexpectedly, that have been toxic, but that the complex businessman that "lives off" it is not willing to abandon its business due to such considerations.

Research on migration has revealed a disturbing fact: heat accelerates the release of plastic material. To food, if it is packaging; to the ground, if it is a plastic material located there, and consequently, to the food that is nourished from the place where that plastic is decomposing. Forty degrees centigrade is enough to precipitate the "migratory" rhythm. Which is a temperature that is easily reached in summer, especially in sheltered or overheated areas. This is, for example, what the aforementioned research revealed twenty years ago, on the migration of a phthalic compound (DEHF, diethylhexylphthalate).

It is also known that fats and alcohols are substances where certain plastic components lodge more easily. In particular, chlorinated plastics. For this reason, some national laws prohibit the packaging of wines or oils in plastic containers (the chlorinated plastic par excellence is polyvinylchloride, PVC, used for years in Argentina and Uruguay as a container for oil; it has been replaced by PET without anyone knowing. Why. PVC also migrates to other liquids that rest in it or pass through it, which is why PVC water pipes are not recommended, but in these latitudes they are used as "the economic solution par excellence").

For all the above, an electronic episode during the first semester of 2003, where it is broadcast that a doctor, Edward Fujimoto, from a Castle Hospital appears on TV and recommends not using plastic tapers to heat food in the microwave reveals a series of traits worth unraveling.

In the first place, the lack of historical-geographical references was striking. But the relevance of some sections of the information was also significant.

Fujimoto highlights fatty foods in particular: "The combination of fat, heat and plastic causes dioxin to be released and stay in food and thus enter the body. Dioxins are carcinogenic and highly toxic to the body." It is therefore recommended to use glass or ceramic containers.

Then he clarifies: "It is also not advisable to use plastic to cover hot foods since the steam condenses and drops containing toxins fall." It refers to ingredients in the plastic that this material has "given up" to the droplets that have formed.
These two paragraphs record a striking shift in the complaint, from "dioxins" to "toxins."

Verifying the source through the Internet allowed us to verify that the message had all the characteristics of the rumor that was knowingly spread. One can only be happy that a means of dissemination such as electronic networks has generated control mechanisms at the same time, in this case self-control. Consulted several e-sites such as SMIC Website General Forum, TruthOrFiction, Urbanlegends, Hoaxinfo, all attribute the character of "deliberate invention" to the message attributed to Fujimoto.

But there is a very interesting phenomenon that is reminiscent of the famous open letter from the Suwamish chieftain Seattle to US President Franklin Pierce in 1855. A long century later, in the late 1970s it was discovered that the formidable Seattle text it was actually the composition that a screenwriter, Ted Perry, wrote in the early 70's for a movie (Home). The first movement then was disappointment at the historical falsity of the letter, the imposture that its dissemination implied, and so on.

But there was a second movement: Perry prepared such a formidable text based effectively on a Seattle speech, of 1855 (or immediately before), he enhanced it perhaps stylistically, but it was based on the actual cultural differences that Seattle was pointing to. It was the producer of the film who preferred to hide Perry's authorship to give the film "greater testimonial strength" (and incidentally, not pay royalties to Seattle, who died a century ago ...). In short: the "Seattle letter" had immense value, it did not betray the messages at stake ("white" predation and native respect for nature, for example).

With the Fujimoto episode, we find something similar. All rumor checking and debunking teams agree that at least some of the dangers outlined in the apocryphal message are true. Some deny the existence of Fujimoto, others have managed to verify his existence (at the Castle Hospital in Honolulu) but failed to connect the person of the doctor with the disseminated text and others finally (this is the case of TruthOrFiction), come not only to individualize Fujimoto but rather verify that the doctor at the center of the storm holds exactly what the message says: "A part of this electronic rumor is the result of an interview with Dr. Edward Fujimoto on Channel 2 in Hawaii, the January 23, 2002. " (Note that the actual episode would precede widespread diffusion by one year).

The risk therefore is that, once again, we throw the baby with the dirty water. In the first place, it must be realized that the dissemination of information in the form of rumor does not favor the news but, in reality, those who want to hide it: because the value of the information is diminished and the disbelief, once verified the character of rumor, it reaches the question itself, not just the method used. With which one could wonder if the spread of rumors cannot in turn become a method to remove verisimilitude from truthful issues ...

All rumor checkers we analyzed questioned microwave dioxin formation. But all recommend, due to the danger of toxins coming from plastic containers or wrappings, at least those "not specially manufactured for such use", to choose ceramic or glass containers (as Fujimoto says precisely).

Some deny the exudation of plastic material exposed to heat and insist that only direct contact with food can allow some unwanted release. A risky assertion of the analyzers themselves, because whoever writes this has verified "the exudation" (some plastic lids "yield" material on top of hot plates or cups; it is easy to check it; it smells, and what we smell are detached molecules).
The question that opens this episode is about the discomfort, the same discomfort that Yves-Cousteau presented decades ago, of having to deal with a material so prone to being toxic. Without society having assumed that risk and even less so, it has evaluated whether it wants to run it.

There is a reason: the position of the petrochemical industry, which has managed to find the springs to enable such products legally, obstructing all analysis, all discussion about their quality.

For this, the petrochemical industry has found valuable allies in the corrupt political personnel, but especially in the citizen blinded by the dominant common sense in our current society, which goes through placing comfort at the top of social values. The petrochemical industry has sold us comfort (debatable whether it is true or false) at the price of taking other issues such as health, environmental pollution and other "nonsense" from people not inclined to "the strength of progress" in the background.

To make their techno-scientific offensive viable, petrochemicals and in particular Monsanto, which was the US laboratory that served as a planetary ram to expand plastics in the 1960s, used a sanctifying alibi: limits. The limits of tolerance. Regulatory authorities asked companies how much was the minimum of a certain toxic agent that could not be discontinued; the companies presented their practical limit and the authorities "resolved" that the presence of this toxic agent (carcinogenic, mutagenic, attacking the brain, nerves, or fertility) up to that limit was harmless and, exceeding this limit, it did become "illegal ", for becoming toxic.

But that limit was not the safety limit, as it was invoked, but the operability limit (of the company).

This is how petrochemicals managed to "plasticize" our societies: persuading regulators with the idea of ​​progress (and often other more material additions) and the general population with the comfort based on a sanctified notion of progress, always instilled from the media. mass isolation.
Today, the fields are littered with plastic waste. Infinitesimal amounts of these bodies are passing into the water and food grown in those fields. Because the molecules can be incorporated through the roots and therefore, it is not enough to wash the products from the earth.

So it is that in the seas, in the soils and in many other moments of our daily lives, we have to deal with toxic substances whose manufacturers have neglected, to say the most benevolent (by the way, those of plastic materials are nothing but a part of that chapter, unfortunately much larger; the current scandal with PCBs in Argentina proves it).

That is serious. In the medical sense, because it can cause death. And in the political sense, because you have to be accountable. And make them perform.

* Journalist specialized in environmental and cultural issues and daily life; in charge of the Ecology and Human Rights seminar of the DD free chair. H H. from the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters of the University of Buenos Aires, editor of the Futuros magazine (Buenos Aires and Montevideo).

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