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The Green Life: Common Plastic Found to Leak Chemicals

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November 10, 2008

Common Plastic Found to Leak Chemicals

Tubes-lab Two highly reactive chemicals in a common plastic can leak from disposable lab equipment and skew the outcome of life science research, according to an article published Thursday in the journal Science. Researchers from the University of Alberta say the chemicals, which make polypropylene plastic flexible and resistant to bacteria, can have "profound effects" on proteins. That means biologists and drug developers may need to rethink use of single-use test tubes, pipette tips, and other equipment made with polypropylene, a type of plastic usually stamped with the letters PP and number five.

In a time when the FDA is facing criticism for mishandling information about another additive, bisphenol A, this new finding raises questions about polypropylene in consumer products, particularly food and drink containers. According to Rebecca Sutton, a senior scientist from the Environmental Working Group, the potential risks of human exposure to plastic additives should not be overlooked. As she told Globe and Mail environment reporter Martin Mittelstaedt, "We simply don't want these chemicals getting into our bodies."

Lead study author Andy Holt said the health effects of polypropylene additives remain unknown. "I don't think the levels we would be ingesting are likely to turn out to be a problem, but the study needs to be done." His team rushed to publish last week's article not as a health warning, but as an urgent alert to other scientists whose conclusions might be thrown off by contamination.

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