By NANCY P. BIELL, Associated Press Bioplastics are among the most promising novel technologies in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries.
While they are being touted as a cheap, environmentally friendly alternative to synthetic chemicals, they also pose a problem for wildlife.
In a new study, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine reviewed research on the bioplastics, concluding that the potential for human harm is greatest when people are exposed to them.
“We do not know whether the use of bioplasty could pose a health threat to humans,” the report says.
Bioplastic materials “are being used for a variety of uses, including in food processing and cosmetic use,” according to the National Academy report.
“But they are not currently regulated or tested as biocides, and have not been used to reduce the risks posed by certain pathogens.
Biocides are toxic and often fatal, particularly to humans.
Biomass and other forms of bioterrorism also pose significant threats to public health.”
The academy concluded that the risks associated with bioplasties are not well understood.
It notes that, while some studies have found a reduction in cancer rates among individuals who were exposed to bioplasts, other studies have shown that these results are not statistically significant.
Bioplastics are “particularly vulnerable to contamination by viruses and other harmful organisms,” the academy said.
“Bioplastic materials could pose an even greater threat to wildlife if they are used as part of a food processing process.”
“There are few data to indicate that they have been tested to determine their safety for humans,” it said.
A 2015 report from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration found that bioplaste products are a concern.
“Some of the ingredients used in bioplastering are known to be potentially toxic, including hydrogen sulfide, a form of cyanide, and lead, a known carcinogen,” the FDA report said.
In the study, researchers from Duke University, the University of New South Wales and the University at Buffalo examined the use and toxicity of the biocidal agent, hexavalent chromium (HCV).
HCV can cause liver and kidney damage.
In its analysis, the scientists found that there was a strong correlation between exposure to HCV and liver and kidneys cancer rates.
HCV is “highly mutagenic and carcinogenic,” the authors wrote.
HCUV was also found to be a “high-risk agent” for kidney cancer, the authors noted.
The report concluded that while HCV “is not generally associated with liver or kidney cancer,” it “is associated with increased rates of bladder cancer.”
The researchers found that the rates of liver cancer were twice as high among people who used bioplasted bioplasters as those who did not.
The FDA also said in its analysis that bioplasties are more likely to be found in hospitals than in homes.
“The use of these products may have an adverse impact on wildlife,” the agency said.