Water from plastic bottle can cause cancer: PGI expert

A ban has been enforced on July 1 to safeguard the environment from plastic pollution. According to the government, it is illegal to produce, import, store, distribute, sell or use disposable plastic products that are labelled. The Tribune correspondent Naina Mishra spoke to Dr Ravinder Khaiwal, Professor of Environment Health, Department of Community Medicine & School of Public Health, PGIMER, on the impact it has on environment.

Why the need for nationwide ban?

Plastic remains in environment for extended periods due to its durability and it takes hundreds of years for it to degrade. It transforms into microplastic, contaminating air, water and soil ecosystems. Its widespread contamination has started affecting our food chain and, subsequently, the human body, where it is highly hazardous.

Chemicals from PET bottles, if ingested, can affect the immune system. Plastic includes a chemical that can induce liver cancer and sperm count reduction. —Dr Ravinder Khaiwal, prof of environment health, PGI

What are the health risks due to its daily use?

Prolonged use of plastics and related products, including exposure to high temperatures, can release harmful compounds into food,

beverages and water. It has been linked to obesity, diabetes, decreased immunological function, early puberty and hyperactivity. Evidence is available relating to asthma. Long-term exposure can lead to cancer, congenital impairments, hormonal abnormalities, decreased sperm counts, infertility, endometriosis and immune damage.

Can drinking water from a plastic bottle be harmful?

Water is stored in a variety of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles, jugs and containers. Depending on the type of plastic, temperature and storage condition, toxic chemicals such as “dioxin” can leach out into the stored liquid. It can rev up the progression of breast cancer. Bisphenol A has been linked to diabetes, obesity, infertility, behavioral issues and early puberty. Chemicals from PET bottles, if ingested, can affect the immune system. Plastic includes a chemical known as phthalate, which can induce liver cancer and sperm count reduction.

How is plastic degrading the environment?

Careless disposal of waste pollutes environment and clogs city sewers. Plastic garbage stores water that supports breeding of mosquitoes. Further degradation and burning of plastic cause offensive odours. It also affects water infiltration, which slows down groundwater recharge, resulting in water scarcity. It can affect natural aeration of soil, reducing crop yields.

What is its impact on the planet?

Recent findings indicate plastic manufacture at every stage of its lifecycle releases greenhouse gases responsible for global warming. Drilling for plastic raw materials, oil and gas frequently results in methane leaks and flaring, as well as destruction of carbon-rich forests and wetlands. Burning plastic garbage sends poisonous fumes into the air, endangering plants, birds and other animals.

How is plastic endangering marine ecosystem?

Recent studies suggest marine plastics annually kill or injure over 3 lakh species. It clogs their digestive tracts and kills them. Some get entangled in the waste.

How are microplastics and nanoparticles harmful?

Enormous quantities of these plastics are discarded, and degradation of micro to nano-sized plastics raises worries about their toxicity. Although numerous studies have described their various consequences, few have examined the intracellular and molecular effects on human body.

What are the alternatives?

Some small changes in daily life, such as carrying a cloth or jute bag for shopping, avoiding packing of gifts, limiting plastic decorative items and using reusable glasses and mugs can have a significant impact. The demand is expected to rise for soil or plant-based products such as bamboo straw or soil pots.