In a word, yes. Plastics can release toxins from the time they are manufactured until long after they are disposed of in the garbage. Some types of plastic release harmful chemicals including bisphenol-A, phthalates and styrene into our food and the environment during their entire life cycles.
Plastics with the numbers 3 and 7 inside the recycling symbol can leach bisphenol-A (BPA). The chemical mimics estrogen and has been linked to numerous illnesses, including obesity, thyroid disorders, male infertility, asthma and cancers of the breast, testicles and prostate. Besides being present in items that are obviously made of plastic, it is also used in the linings of food cans. Pregnant women should be especially vigilant in avoiding BPA exposure. Plastics numbered 1 and 3 can leach phthalates, which can interfere with thyroid function and cause birth defects. Phthalates are easily leached from plastic and released into the environment. Plastic #6 can leach styrene, a suspected carcinogen.
Since most of us are unable or unwilling to avoid plastic entirely, what can we do to limit our exposure to plastic-related toxins? Plenty, including the following:
Avoid using plastics #1, 3 & 6 for food, drinks or baby items. Some #7 plastics are made of plant material, but avoid #7 PC (polycarbonate) which is often used in three- and five-gallon water bottles.
Use #2, 4 & 5 for food and drink containers. They are currently considered to be the safest plastics.
Look for canned food labeled "BPA Free." Campbell's, Eden Foods, Muir Glen, Trader Joe's and Heinz have phased out or are phasing out BPA use in their cans.
Avoid drinking canned soda.
Do not feed liquid baby formula to your infant and do not use polycarbonate baby bottles.
Wash hands after handling store receipts. Thermal printers use BPA, which can linger on hands and be ingested accidentally.
Do not microwave food in plastic containers or put them in the dishwasher. The heat breaks down the plastic and releases toxins.
For detailed plastic information by number, see http://www.thedailygreen.com/environmental-news/latest/bisphenol-a-47091707 and http://healthychild.org/5steps/5_steps_5/.