This long-circulated email claims that freezing water or microwaving food in plastic containers or plastic wrap can lead to the consumption of cancer-causing chemicals.
An earlier variant of the message referred only to the freezing of plastic water bottles. This later version has added on spurious information about using plastics in microwave ovens as well. Both versions contain false and misleading information.
Rolf Halden of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has expertly debunked the rumour linking plastic bottles to cancer. According to Halden, the claim is an urban legend. He explains that:
Freezing actually works against the release of chemicals. Chemicals do not diffuse as readily in cold temperatures, which would limit chemical release if there were dioxins in plastic, and we don’t think there are.
Experts also contradict the claim that using plastics in microwaves can cause dioxins to leech into the food. According to Edward Machuga, Ph.D, of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), “The FDA has seen no evidence that plastic containers or films contain dioxins and knows of no reason why they would”. The general consensus is that using plastic containers or plastic wrap in microwaves is not dangerous, so long as microwave safe plastics are used and manufacturers guidelines are followed. The FDA article does admit that substances in plastics can leach into food. However, the FDA does not consider this to be a significant risk to humans. The FDA article maintains that:
The agency has assessed migration levels of substances added to regulated plastics and has found the levels to be well within the margin of safety based on information available to the agency.
The email also claims that Saran Wrap “drips poisonous toxins” into the food when used in a microwave. SC Johnson, the makers of Saran® plastic wrap has strongly refuted this claim and has released the following statement.
Response to Hoax Email About Alleged Dangers of Using Plastics in the Microwave
RACINE, Wis., May 4, 2009 – In 2002, SC Johnson became aware of a hoax e-mail that was being widely circulated, which warned consumers about the alleged dangers of using plastics in the microwave. This e-mail, which suggested that it originated from Johns Hopkins Hospital, claimed that the combination of fat, high heat and plastics, releases dioxin into the food and ultimately into the cells of the body, thereby increasing the risk of producing cancerous cells. Unfortunately, this email has continued since 2002 and has recently increased in circulation.
SC Johnson takes very seriously the responsibility of providing products that families can use with confidence, and we researched these claims in 2002. We quickly discovered that the claims in the email about dioxins leaking from plastics into food is not only misleading, but also unnecessarily alarms consumers. Additionally we contacted the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, and spokeswomen Vanessa Wasta reiterated their previous statement which says, “The Internet is flooded with messages warning against freezing water in plastic bottles or cooking with plastics in the microwave oven. These messages, frequently titled ‘Johns Hopkins Cancer News’ or ‘Johns Hopkins Cancer Update,’ are falsely attributed to Johns Hopkins and we do not endorse their content.” (Links to the official statement from Johns Hopkins and other sources of information on this issue, including the American Cancer Society, are included at the end of this release.)
When used in the microwave, there is no trace level migration of dioxins from any Saran™ or Ziploc® brand product. This is known because these products are 100% dioxin-free. You also should be aware that dioxins can only be formed when chlorine is combined with extremely high temperatures, such as the temperatures generated in waste incinerators. Those incinerators produce temperatures of more than 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit, an extreme temperature that even the most powerful consumer microwave ovens are unable to produce. In addition, SC Johnson’s food storage products, including Ziploc® brand bags and containers do not contain bisphenol A (BPA).
All Ziploc® Containers and microwaveable Ziploc® Bags meet the safety requirements of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for temperatures associated with defrosting and reheating food in microwave ovens, as well as room, refrigerator, and freezer temperatures. In addition Ziploc® Zip’n Steam™ products meet the safety requirements of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for temperatures associated with cooking food in microwave ovens.
As a family company, nothing is more important to us than the health and safety of the families who use SC Johnson products. That’s why it is so important for us to set the record straight and reinforce that when used according to label directions, consumers can continue to use Ziploc® brand bags and all SC Johnson products with confidence.
I have labelled this email forward as false for the following reasons:
- The email falsely claims that freezing water in plastic containers causes dioxins to enter the liquid.
- The email makes statements about a particular product, Saran Wrap, that have been effectively proved to be untrue by the company that makes the product.
- Dr. Edward Fujimoto is a real person who apparently did make at least some of the statements attributed to him. However, although Dr. Fujimoto told TruthorFiction.com that he had evidence supporting his claims, the article notes that he has so far failed to produce this alleged evidence. It appears that his claims remain unsubstantiated. To my knowledge, they have never been backed up by any sort of credible scientific studies. In fact, experts in the field have resoundingly refuted his claims. If credible scientific information backing up the claims in the email had been presented, the FDA, and other health authorities worldwide, would have certainly re-examined the issue. The previously mentioned FDA article states that the FDA will revisit its safety evaluation if new scientific information raises concerns. Apparently, no such scientific information has been forthcoming.
- The email makes no effort to back up the information it contains with any sort of checkable references.
- Some versions of the email (including the example above) claim that the information is endorsed by John Hopkins University and /or the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. However, I have found no evidence to support this claim. Earlier versions of the email did not include this supposed endorsement, so it appears that someone has added it to the message in an attempt to make the information sound more believable.
- The mainstream media and the medical establishment remain relatively silent on the issue in spite of the fact that versions of the email have been circulating for several years. If the information in the email had been proved to be true, or even partially substantiated by credible medical studies, then it would almost certainly be widely publicized in a variety of media. If true, informing the public about health risks associated with the use of plastics would certainly not be left to the random forwarding of a poorly written email.
Therefore, in my opinion, the information in this email forward should not be taken seriously. The misinformation contained in the email clearly identifies it as just one more among the many bogus warnings that continually circulate around cyberspace.
However, while the claims in this email forward are demonstrably untrue, alarmist and highly misleading, it is important to keep in mind that not all plastics are necessarily safe to use in microwave ovens. As stated earlier in the article, plastics are considered by experts to be safe to use in microwave ovens so long as microwave safe plastics are used and manufacturers guidelines are followed. However, some plastic containers – such as those that hold meals from fast-food outlets, or cold food receptacles such as margarine tubs – may not be suitable for microwave use. The American Plastics Council has information and resources about safely using plastics in the microwave oven on its website.
Update: June 2007:
During 2007, a new version of the warning message began circulating. According to this version, drinking water from a plastic bottle that has been left in a car can lead to breast cancer. Like the earlier version discussed above, the message claims that heat can result in cancer-causing chemicals leaking into the water. It also claims that singer Sheryl Crow contracted cancer in this way.
Sheryl Crow did appear on the Ellen DeGeneres Show in October 2006 to discuss her experience with breast cancer and share preventative tips with viewers. She also posted an article on her website in which she listed the following cancer prevention tips, among others:
Don’t drink water from a bottle that has been sitting in your car. Heated plastic will bleed toxic substances that can be carcinogenic.
Don’t heat or freeze in plastic for the same reason. Heat in glass.
According to the article, Sheryl was given this information by her nutritionist and was no doubt passing on the information to her fans in good faith. However, it seems that the nutritionist was simply repeating the same old totally unsubstantiated cancer myths that are discussed above. Again, there is no credible scientific evidence to back up the nutritionist’s claims that heating or freezing plastic will leak toxins into the container’s contents. Mayo Clinic dietitian Katherine Zeratsky also refutes the claims.
An example of the new variant is included below:
Subject: Bottled Water Kept in Car
I will stop this habit, because I do this all the time.
This is how Sheryl Crow got breast cancer she was on the Ellen show and She said this same exact thing. So please be very careful ladies.
…..a friend whose mother recently got diagnosed with breast cancer. The doctor told her: women should not drink bottled water that has been left in a car. The doctor said that the heat and the plastic of the bottle have certain chemicals that can lead to breast cancer. So please be careful and do not drink that water bottle that has been left in a car and pass this on to all the women in your life. This information is the kind we need to know and be aware and just might save us!!!! The heat causes toxins from the plastic to leak into the water and they have found these toxins in breast tissue. Use a stainless steel Canteen or a glass bottle when you can!!!