Plastic is a human health crisis hiding in plain sight, according to a recent report from a coalition of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) lead by the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL).
To date, research into the human health impacts of plastic have focused narrowly on specific moments in the plastic lifecycle, often on single products, processes, or exposure pathways. This approach fails to recognize that significant, complex, and intersecting human health impacts occur at every stage of the plastic lifecycle: from extraction of fossil fuels, to consumer use, to disposal and beyond. According to the report, uncertainties and knowledge gaps often impede regulation and the ability of workers, consumers and policymakers to make informed decisions. However, the full scale of health impacts throughout plastic’s lifecycle are overwhelming and warrant a precautionary approach.
According to Tony Musu, European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) senior researcher and expert on chemical risks, "CIEL report rightly points out that workers in the plastic industry are exposed to numerous carcinogens end endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDC). In particular, benzene used as solvent in plastic manufacturing processes can cause leukaemia and Bisphenol A (BPA) a starting material for the production of plastic can impact the reproductive and endocrine systems."
In a recent study, ETUI has estimated the economic burden of cancer incidence resulting from occupational exposure to selected carcinogenic agents (inter alia benzene) in the EU-28. These costs are immense: between €270 and €610 billion ($307 and $694 billion) each year.