Release of chemicals having EA from unstressed plastics. and show the percentage of samples in each category that had reliably detectable EA (> 15% RME2) in our survey of 455 commercially available plastic products. [For the %RME2 and content status of individual samples, as well as the average %RME2 for products classified by resins (HDPE, PP, PET, PS, polylactic acid, PC), product type (flexible packaging, food wrap, rigid packaging, baby bottle components, plastic bags), and retailer (large retailers 1–5 and large organic retailers 1 and 2), see Supplemental Material, Table 5 (doi:10.1289/ehp.1003220).] For example, 9 of 13 HDPE plastic products extracted by our standard EtOH protocol (69%) had detectable EA (), with a %RME2 (mean ± SD) of 66% ± 25% (see Supplemental Material, Table 5A). For PET products extracted by saline, 26 of 34 (76%) had detectable EA () with a %RME2 of 64% ± 41% (see Supplemental Material, Table 5C). We found no consistent correlation between the percentage of items in a product type with detectable EA and their mean %RME2 (data not shown).
We found no significant difference (p > 0.05) in the percentage of items with detectable EA between those with contents and those with no contents (76%, n = 160) at the time of purchase based on the standard EtOH extraction protocol [67% vs. 70%; see Supplemental Material, (doi:10.1289/ehp.1003220)], the standard saline protocol (62% vs. 75%; see Supplemental Material, ), or all extraction protocols combined (69% vs. 76%). Most important, items with no contents in all categories exhibited detectable EA in at least one protocol (see Supplemental Material, and 5), including 78% of items made from HDPE (n = 18), 57% from PP (n = 14), and 100% from PET (n = 6). Given all of these results, we present the data for all items shown in and without regard to their content status.
Using different solvents increased the probability of detecting EA. Most (71%) unstressed plastic items released chemicals with reliably detectable EA in one or more extraction protocols, independent of resin type, product type, or retailer (). Results often differed between saline and EtOH extracts of the same unstressed plastic item, and EA was reliably detected most frequently (92% of all items listed in ) when analyzed using both saline (more polar) and EtOH (less polar) extracts. For example, 15% of unstressed HDPE plastic items leached chemicals with detectable EA into both EtOH and saline extracts, 15% leached only into EtOH, and 31% leached only into saline (). That is, the leaching of a chemical with EA was significantly (p < 0.01) more likely to be detected if we used both polar and nonpolar solvents (61%) than if we used only one solvent (30% for EtOH only or 45% for saline only). We obtained similar results for all types of plastic products (data not shown).
Assays of > 100 component parts from > 20 different baby bottles, including many advertised as BPA free, indicated that extracts of at least one bottle component of each baby bottle always had EA based on at least one assay (some data shown in and ), as did at least one other component part (data not shown).
Stresses increased the release of chemicals having EA. Leaching of chemicals with EA was increased by common stresses. For example, one unstressed sample of an HDPE resin (P5 in ) that had no detectable EA (i.e., RME2 < 15%) in two saline extracts and two EtOH extracts released chemicals with EA equivalent to 47% RME2 when extracted using EtOH after the resin was stressed with UV light. Similarly, two samples of low-density PE resins (LDPE resins 1 and 2) and PETG resins (PETG baby bottle and PETG resin 1) that had no detectable EA before stressing subsequently exhibited EA when stressed, especially by UV (). Samples (n > 10) of products made from PETG resins advertised as BPA free all released detectable EA when stressed, especially by UV light. Similarly, 25% of unstressed samples of PET and 50% of unstressed PS products surveyed did not have detectable EA in assays of EtOH and/or saline extracts (). However, when stressed and assayed using both saline and EtOH extracts, all PET (n > 10) and PS (n > 10) products released chemicals having detectable EA in at least one extracting solvent ().
EA-containing and EA-free monomers.
Polymerization of monomers is rarely complete, and unpolymerized monomers are almost always released from polymer resins (Begley et al. 1990
; De Meulenaer and Huyghebaert 2004
). PE and PP polymers are often used to manufacture flexible and/or
nontransparent rigid products (). MCF-7 assays (n
= 6) consistently showed that extracts of “barefoot” (no additives) polymers (e.g., LDPE resin P1 in ) were EA free, even when stressed. (PP-based polymers require antioxidants to prevent severe degradation during their use in manufacturing plastic products.) Furthermore, PE- and PP-based resins containing appropriate additives to produce fit-for-use products could be constructed that remained EA free (n
> 100 assays of > 10 resins), even when exposed to common-use stresses. Representative data from several such resins (LDPE resin P1, HDPE resin P2, PP homopolymer resin P3, PP copolymer resin P4) are shown in .
Properties of monomers and polymers used to make
also shows other monomers and polymers that can or cannot be used to make hard-and-clear (HC) plastics. For example, HC PC plastics (n > 10) all released chemicals having EA (e.g., PC baby bottle B1 and PC water bottle W1 in ), almost certainly phenolics such as BPA (). The dimethyl terephthalate monomer used to make PET and PETG plastics exhibited anti-EA (n = 3 assays; data not shown; for anti-EA assay protocol, see Supplemental Material (doi:10.1289/ehp.1003220)]. Furthermore, breakdown products of dimethyl terephthalate, PET, and PETG resins probably contain and release phenolic moieties that have EA that account for some of the data for PET products in and . Polyethersulfone HC products also consistently released chemicals having EA or anti-EA, especially when stressed with UV light (data not shown), possibly from unreacted phenolic monomer residues or phenolic stress-degradation products. In contrast, some HC cyclic olefin polymer/cyclic olefin copolymer polymers produced from saturated cyclic olefin monomers contained no phenolics and did not release chemicals having detectable EA, even when stressed ().
Polymers that can be made EA free have a similar cost compared with polymers made from monomers that have EA. For example, currently, clarified PP having no additives that exhibit EA (even when stressed) that is suitable for molding bottles costs approximately $1.20/lb. PP resins containing additives that have EA also cost about $1.20/lb. Commodity resins such as PET, which are made from monomers having EA and are suitable for molding bottles, are priced at approximately $1.28/lb (Plastics News 2011
EA-containing and EA-free additives.
Many additives are physically, but not chemically, bound to a polymeric structure and hence can almost always leach from the polymer, especially when stressed (Begley et al. 1990
; De Meulenaer and Huyghebaert 2004
). Antioxidants are the most critical class of additives because they prevent or minimize plastic degradation due to oxidation that breaks polymer chains (chain scission) and/or causes cross-links (Kattas et al. 2000
). The oldest and most common antioxidants deemed suitable for food contact belong to a chemical class known as HPs (hindered phenols), such as BHT and BHA, in large part because both are inexpensive and assumed to be nontoxic. However, BHT (n
= 4 assays) had reliably detectable EA, as did BHA (n
= 3 assays). [The EC50
of BHT and BHA () could not be accurately calculated because both also exhibited cellular toxicity at higher concentrations (10–5
M).] Other commonly used HP antioxidants (n
= 4/5) and organophosphines (n
= 6/7) also exhibited reliably detectable EA, especially when exposed to moist heat, which presumably causes hydrolysis (data not shown). For example, proprietary antioxidants Phos (phosphate) OX 1 and HP AOX 2 had no detectable EA, whereas HP AOX 1 and Ph (bisphenol) AOX 1 had reliably detectable EA [see Supplemental Material, (doi:10.1289/ehp.1003220)].
Many other additives (n > 50) with a phenolic group had reliably detectable EA, such as agents found in many base resins [tris(nonylphenyl) phosphite, octylphenol, nonylphenol, butylbenzene phthalate], colorants (especially blues or greens with phthalocyanine groups), PS-based purge compounds, and mold-release agents [see Supplemental Material, Table 4 (doi:10.1289/ehp.1003220)]. In contrast, many metal-
oxide–based inorganic pigments did not exhibit EA. However, these EA-free pigments are often mixed with dispersing agents and carrier resins that have EA to produce colorant masterbatch concentrates. Nevertheless, we have identified resins, dispersants, pigments, and antioxidants that are approved by the Food and Drug Administration for direct food contact (see Supplemental Material, and 4) to create colorant masterbatch concentrates (n > 100) that produce even colorant dispersion into plastics and that have no detectable EA, cellular toxicity, or adverse processing effects, even when stressed.
Because additives comprise a small fraction (typically 0.1–1% by weight) of plastic resins and compounds and because plastic resins and compounds using EA-free additives are processed during manufacture in a nearly identical manner as conventional resins and compounds containing chemicals with EA, the replacement of additives having EA with EA-free additives should have very little impact on the cost of the final product. Furthermore, EA-free additives have only a slightly higher or no additional cost compared with additives with EA, so that their cost impact is very small or nonexistent.
Products currently marketed as BPA free are not EA free. In response to market and regulatory pressures to eliminate BPA in HC plastics, BPA-free HC materials have recently been introduced as replacements for PC resins. PET and PETG are two such resins, but HC plastic products made from these resins leached chemicals that had detectable EA (–, and ), often in the absence of exposure to common-use stresses. Two popular brands of water bottles made from a PETG resin now marketed as an HC BPA-free replacement also released chemicals having significant EA (W1, W2, W3, and W4; , and ), as did uncompounded PETG resins (). Most PE/PP-based plastic products were presumably BPA free but nevertheless had readily detectable EA ( and ), almost certainly due to one or more additives having EA. Many components of BPA-free baby bottles had reliably detectable EA (22–95% RME2) when extracted in either saline or EtOH, including the bottle, nipple, anticolic device, and liner (data not shown).
In fact, all BPA-replacement resins or products tested to date (n > 25) released chemicals having reliably detectable EA (data not shown), including polyethersulfone and PETG, sometimes having more total EA measured as %RME2 than many PC products when stressed. For example, the %RME2 released by various BPA-free baby and water bottle component parts extracted by saline or EtOH solutions and exposed to one or more common-use stresses can be greater than PC products under the same conditions (). UV stress, in particular, often leads to the release of chemicals having greater EA than BPA-containing HC plastics currently sold. For example, saline extracts of BPA-free baby bottle B3 () after exposure to UV showed greater EA than did any of the PC baby bottle extracts after any of the stresses. Saline extracts from BPA-free baby bottle B1 after any of the stresses (microwave, autoclave, or UV) showed greater EA than did the saline extracts from PC baby bottle B2 after any of the stresses. EtOH extracts from BPA-free baby bottle B1 after UV stress showed greater EA than extracts from PC baby bottle B1. Saline extracts from BPA-free baby bottle B2 after microwave or autoclave stresses showed greater EA than did saline extracts from PC baby bottles B1 or B2 after any of the stresses. Note also in that multiple extracts of the same product using the same solvent/stress combination typically gave rather similar %RME2 data, but different solvent/stress combinations gave very different results, from very high EA to nondetectable EA. For example, EtOH extracts from PC baby bottle B2 showed very high EA under all stress conditions, whereas saline extracts of the same bottle under the same stress conditions showed no detectable EA. Hence, to reliably detect EA, plastic resins or products must be extracted with both polar and nonpolar solvents and exposed to common-use stresses.