The situation in the United States regarding pesticides and plastics is frightening. Neither product is sufficiently tested, studied, nor regulated. The general public is severely under-informed about the situation, most not realizing their risks at all or the severity and prevalence of their contact with these substances. Federal and state law and regulation, as well as the institutions designed to implement and enforce environmental regulation, are not equipped to handle the severity of the threat pesticides and plastics pose. However, there are institutions in place, which could be empowered, streamlined, and better funded in order to address the dangers of these materials.
Pesticides are chemical substances designed specifically to destroy life. For a great part of the 20th century they were applied liberally and excessively, with no understanding of their permanence in the environment or their effects on non-target species. The standard by which they were measured were their lethality and the length with which they were effective—the exact factors that make them more harmful to the environment, and eventually to human health. They allowed the rise of the great American farm monoculture, and create a paradigm shift away from farming productivity as a function of skill and towards productivity based on the amount of chemical inputs, of both pesticides and fertilizers.
The plastic industry bloomed later, but has made great inroads since the 1950’s . Plastic products are now commonplace in all facets of the human landscape. They protect our food, bottle our beverages, are implanted in our bodies, and are incorporated into many of the products we come into contact with daily, including components of our own homes. Their health effects on humans and pervasiveness into natural environments failed to be studied prior to their use, and are thus largely being discovered retroactively.
Both classes of substances share widespread exposures through diverse routes. Food is the primary vector for the majority of human intake of both. Pesticide exposure is concentrated in produce and other farmed goods. Plastics, on the other hand, are present in anything packaged—“can coatings, adhesive paper manufacturing, single and repeated use containers, cellophane, and as a metal foil lubricant.” BPA and DEHP have been shown to leach into foods and beverages at high rates, and DEHP is found in 100% of many developed-country populations tested, due to the prevalence of processed goods. The danger of many plastics is their ability to function as endocrine disrupters, which can have huge repercussions on the hormonal and sexual development of children, as well as negatively affect adults.1 Both can also act as carcinogens.
Other vectors for plastics include a great deal of indoor exposure, exposure from consumer products, and from medical devices. Most new homes, especially in wetter climates, are lined with plastic to better insulate and keep dry the interior...