September 17, 2007

Fact or Fiction: The Insight on Whether or Not Plastics Cause Cancer

Circulating emails entitled “Cancer Updates From John Hopkins” have made their way through innumerable inboxes having many inclined to wonder whether drinking water out of plastic bottles will lead to the development of cancer. Upon receiving a persuasive yet deceitful email discussing a current research finding at Johns Hopkins University, a majority of people believed the addressing issue of a harmful toxin, known as dioxin, being released into the water after freezing the plastic bottle. Furthermore, the email addressed the appearance of the Wellness Program Manager at Castle Hospital, Dr. Edward Fujimoto, on a TV program explaining this health hazard which furthered the plausibility of the false warning. He talked about the dangers of dioxin and how heating food with plastic is not a safe method since it does contribute to the release of these cancer-causing toxins. In exception to the discussion Dr. Edward Fujimoto had on television, the email was filled with misinformation.

Due to this notice that was supposedly sent out by Johns Hopkins University, confirmation from the university itself was needed to verify the validity of the significant finding. In response to this email, assistant professor, Rolf Halden, PhD, PE, in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences and the Center for Water and Health at Johns Hopkins University discredited this hoax email. The Office of Communications and Public Affairs at the university conversed with Rolf Halden about the issue of dioxins released from plastic bottles as well as the use of plastic cookware. Halden clarified the issue and stated that dioxins are not present in plastics and freezing plastic bottles does not contribute to the release of this chemical. Moreover, he explained that: “Chemicals do not diffuse as readily in cold temperatures, which would limit chemical release if there were dioxins in plastic, and we don’t think there are.” It is important to note however that heating and cooking with plastics does increase the possibility of chemicals being released into the food substance according to Halden. Consequently, Dr. Edward Fujimoto’s statement on heating foods in plastic, as found in the email, is not an inaccurate statement. Rather, understanding the context as a whole can be misinterpreted by many who did receive the email.

Though present-day technology allowed for an immediate distribution of the email regarding the recent research on dioxin, the hoax was quickly identified and detested by researchers at Johns Hopkins University. It is important that society is immediately warned about all possible health risks associated with the usage of plastic ware. For example, many people probably would not have known that some drinking straws have been labeled “not for hot beverages” simply because the chemicals from the straw are being extracted into one’s beverage according to Halden. Most would usually have the initial understanding that one might be burned by using the straw.

Moreover, generating a scare towards drinking water from plastic bottles through a false email contributes to an unrest society. The release and distribution of such pertinent health related information throughout the internet needs to be monitored and certified in a specific manner. I, myself being a previous recipient of such a bogus email, further looked into the issue of dioxins and discovered the falsification attached with the email message. Additionally, the validity of such a message would have not been only claimed online, but through the use of mass media. Today is the age of a well informed society. Nevertheless, I say thank you for the recommendation of using heat-resistant glass, stainless steel, or ceramics when cooking in order to avoid the increased risk of cancer. No thank you to the unnecessary scare that left many wondering what the next everyday essential (like water bottles) will be warned against as a possible risk of developing cancer.


MB said...

I just read your post and I feel very good knowing there are people out there who do not take medical advice from e-mails at face value. Rather you took the initiative and reviewed and evaluated the information for yourself, to conclude the information is true, but rather misrepresented. The notion of dioxin being released when the bottle is frozen seemed rather scary because many of us put our bottles in the freezer, I am glad the researcher clarified the release of toxins in plastic, and limited it to being released when exposed to heat. The difference between hot straws and cold straws was new to me; I assumed a straw was for any liquid regardless of the temperature. The links and pictures were done very nicely, they were easy to follow and understand. The color scheme and overall layout went very nice with everything else. Thank you for doing your homework and not being another paranoid person just waiting to hear about the newest cancer causing agent or latest conspiracy theory. Cheerios! - MB

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