This letter features reporting from "There’s Almost No Research on the Health Impact of Plastic Chemicals in the Global South" by Aryn Baker
Dear Virginia State Health Commissioner Dr. Karen Shelton,
I, Aarya Karmarkar, am a student passionate about the complex field of health sciences and its impact on the lives of all. In the twenty-first century, humanity is facing the adverse effects of chemicals in plastic, which, despite all of the research conducted, still remain widely unknown in certain parts of the world. “There’s Almost No Research on the Health Impact of Plastic Chemicals in the Global South,” an article featured on the Pulitzer Center website, describes how the prevalence of plastic use has been detrimental to the health of society, which has been further affected by incomplete research, particularly in lower income countries. Medical conditions due to plastic often result from exposure to harmful chemicals found in plastic products including polychlorinated biphenyl (PCBs), phthalates, and Bisphenol A (BPA).
According to the article, hundreds of billions of dollars are being spent globally due to plastic-related medical conditions. However, the cost of plastic on healthcare extends beyond the monetary. Nations that experience the most exposure tend to be unable to conduct substantial research on the impacts of plastic due to their economic status. Even in journals where research has been conducted, there are gaps in information, such as a lack of research exploring the effects of certain types of plastic chemicals, or the effects of replacement chemicals developed as an alternative to BPA, which has been deemed a dangerous chemical to human health. Several chemicals used in plastic items haven’t even been thoroughly researched to approve their safety.
When I visited Nagpur, India during the summer of 2023, I had to rely on bottled water for hydration, as the local water source was impure. As a result, an immense supply of filled plastic bottles had to be obtained, and due to the heat, the bottles had to be refrigerated. Through the experience, I learned about microplastics and their negative effects on health when exposed to high temperatures. I began to wonder how this may impact underprivileged areas with little accessibility to such appliances, and how a lack of information could result in people not understanding the effects. Even in the United States, many people microwave pre-made meals without suspecting that the chemicals in the plastic containers may leach into the food, which could affect growth and development, according to an article published by Harvard Health.
Despite the existence of various publications, several chemicals in plastic remain widely unknown to the public, even in wealthier countries, which results in the continual use of such products. Since 1961, only 1,150 articles have been published on chemicals in plastic and their impact on health in the United States, and with plastic production to triple by 2060, the public must be fully informed on the material that has been integrated into society.
An effective way to facilitate education on plastics around the world, beginning with the United States, is to ensure that pioneering research efforts are supported. Support can be achieved by allocating a portion of the Virginia Department of Health’s revenue towards non-profit research initiatives such as those at Virginia Commonwealth University. As the commissioner of the Virginia Department of Health, another solution would be to address the Virginia Department of Health Youth Advisory Council. Through your invaluable guidance, young advisory council members can be provided with information from scientific journals which would enable them to design their own research projects pertaining to the exploration of chemicals in plastic products. The projects can be based on questions that have yet to receive answers, such as the impact of micro and nano plastics and the replacement of BPA. By engaging in active collaboration with local organizations as well as writing letters to representatives on regional and national levels, the Virginia Department of Health Youth Advisory Council would be able to gain awareness for the issue of hazardous chemicals in plastic. Doing so would inspire the scientists of tomorrow to become active in their communities through learning about a prevalent problem and working towards a solution for all.
I hope you take this letter into consideration and plan to implement the aforementioned initiatives.
Aarya Karmarkar is in the eighth grade of the International Baccalaureate Program at George H. Moody Middle School in Glen Allen, Virginia. In addition to being a prolific author and poet, her other passions include reading, conducting scientific research experiments, playing piano, and composing music. Aarya has been publishing a newsletter, The Karmarkar Times, where she shares stories and scientific research-based articles on current global issues. She is also finishing the initial draft of her debut novel. In the future, Aarya plans to continue pursuing her interests in writing and research in medical sciences, actively conduct medical research studies, and contribute to global health and well-being.