Eating ourselves to death: Plastic poisoning

Two million plastic bottles are used in the world every five minutes, and one million plastic cups are handed out on U.S. airline flights every six hours. Plastic is the number one consumer product, but it could also be killing us.

"When I stepped out of bed, I hit the floor and I couldn't move," says Tonya Montgomery who had plastic poisoning. "I was completely paralyzed. It was awful and I was in a lot of pain."

Tonya Montgomery was ready to die. Helpless and alone on the floor for two days until her child's nanny found her. Over the next two months, Tonya was diagnosed with lupus, lymphoma, leukemia, and scleroderma, but she had none of them. After searching online, she found the answer and a doctor who confirmed it, Tonya was suffering from plastic poisoning.

"People are exposed to BPA constantly," explains Dr. Tracey Woodruff. PhD, MPH, the Director of Reproductive Health and the Environment at UCSF.

Bisphenol-A or BPA is a chemical used in plastics. It prevents rusting and is found in the lining of canned foods, plastic bottles, plastic bags, Styrofoam, and coffee cups. It's in the fish we eat, the soup we sip, and even our baby's bottles.

"They can actually leach out into the product that is containing the can metal," says Roy Gerona, PhD, a clinic chemist at UC San Francisco.

High levels of are linked to all of these problems.

"It can alter the hormones in your body," says Dr. Woodruff.

Experts say to avoid anything made with plastic number three, six, or seven.

Tonya changed her spa, getting rid of anything and everything plastic.

"Nothing's a toxic to the body," says Montgomery.

She cleaned out her home and watches everything she eats. No plastic bags, bottles, or cups.

"We don't use the microwave,” says Montgomery. “We don't do anything with preservatives. It took me about ninety days to get completely better."

It changed Tonya's life, and it could change yours too.

Last year, French lawmakers banned BPA in all food packaging. Canada banned it in baby food products. The entire Japanese canning industry has gotten rid of BPA resin can liners.

After a lot of pressure, the FDA has recently banned the use of BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups. However, it stopped short of banning the chemical in metal can liners and other plastics.

Eating ourselves to death: Plastic poisoning
REPORT #1961

PROBLEMS WITH PLASTIC: In the past few decades more than 5,000 papers have been published on whether or not BPA from plastic is harmful for people's health. One study by the U.S. National Toxicology Program, in 2008, found that BPA may in fact have negative effects on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland development in fetuses, infants, and children. In fact, fish and mollusks living in rivers that have been polluted with BPA, have been known to change their sex because of the hormonal effects the chemical can have. Even more problematic are phthalates, which have been shown to cause birth defects and sexual development problems in mice. However, exactly how harmful plastic really is continues to be a debated topic. (Source:

PLASTIC, PLASTIC EVERYWHERE: One of the more concerning aspects of the plastic debate is that plastic is everywhere. Although several kinds of phthalates have been banned from being used in the production of children's toys and some food packaging, there are still 25 different kinds of phthalates, most of which are still legal to use in many products used every day. Several different organizations are making moves to ban BPA and other phthalates in food storage, but it could be a while before these hopes are recognized. (Source:

TIPS TO AVOID PLASTIC POISONING: Although it may be difficult for some people to cut plastic out of their lives entirely, there are some steps that can be taken to lower the risk of being poisoned by plastic. One way to avoid plastic poisoning is to use BPA-free products, but be careful because not all products say they have BPA even if they do. In general, steel bottles and cans are BPA-free while aluminum cans traditionally do contain the chemical. Another tip: avoid heating up anything in plastic because higher temperatures cause BPA to leach even more into whatever it contains. So don't put plastic containers in the microwave, don't drink out of water bottles left in a hot car, and don't wash plastic containers and utensils in the dishwasher. (Source:

For More Information, Contact:

Tracey Woodruff, Expert on Environmental Chemicals
University of California San Francisco
(510) 350-1240

Roy Gerona, Ph.D.
University of California San Francisco

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