Like a mosquito that keeps circling the ear, the issue of plastic toxicity seems to keep buzzing its way into the news. A few months ago (12/14/2007), I wrote a story about the efforts of environmental and parent groups to contain the use of polycarbonate in baby bottles, sippy cups, and food containers. The story came on the heels of a new report entitled Baby’s Toxic Bottle: Bisphenol-A Leaching from Popular Baby Bottles, authored by a coalition of 15 public health and environmental groups.
According to the report, 95-percent of all baby bottles on the market today contain the chemical bisphenol A (BPA), a synthetic estrogen, which has been linked to cancer, Alzheimer’s, Down syndrome, obesity, diabetes, and developmental and reproductive problems. BPA has been shown in animal studies to cause “damage to reproductive, neurological and immune systems during critical stages of development, such as infancy and in the womb.” The leaching problem becomes far worse when the plastic is heated to 80 degrees F or higher–and of course, it’s a given that baby bottles get heated, so lots of leaching occurs. The report states, “Based on over 150 peer-reviewed journal articles on bisphenol A4, we conclude that the amount leaching from heated bottles is within the range shown to cause harm in animal studies and is therefore a health concern for infants.”
The report calls for the immediate phase-out of BPA-containing baby bottles. Apparently, some people in power find that conclusion too hasty. The debate over BPA safety has been raging for years, with the plastics industry and the FDA on one side of the argument, and environmental and health groups on the other. Although the FDA states that it’s investigating BPA safety, its official position at this time is that babies don’t get exposed to enough of the chemical to warrant any concern. Other plastic advocates say that since BPA has been tested only on animals, the implications for humans aren’t clear.
“Polycarbonate plastic baby bottles have been safely used for decades,” says Steve Hentges of the American Chemical Council. “There’s an extraordinary amount of science that supports the safety of those products.”
Actually, there’s an extraordinary amount of science indicating that BPA is not safe. It’s somewhat puzzling that even with the overwhelming amount of evidence underlining the hazards of BPA-leaching and even with the avalanche of new reports confirming reasons for alarm, the naysayers manage to keep the stuff on the shelves. The “we’ve used it for years so it must be okay” argument seems to keep trumping the weight of scientific testimony…and logic.
Nine states have introduced legislation to ban BPA, but to date, no major retailer has withdrawn polycarbonate baby bottles from the shelves, except for Whole Foods. You’ll still find the BPA-laden containers dominating the products at the places where parents typically shop for kids’ stuff — WalMart, Babies-R-Us, and so on — and of course, the bottles don’t carry warning labels.
Undoubtedly, many parents figure that those cute sippy cups and plastic baby bottles must be safe since everybody sells them and everybody seems to use them. The bottles keep flying off the shelves while the industry digs in its heels, refusing to change the manufacturing formula–which would be an expensive undertaking.
Until a majority of enlightened retailers “just say no,” or until the FDA reaches the same conclusion that so many scientists already have — actually, until the media spreads the word more effectively–it appears that enlightened parents need to take matters into their own hands.
The authors of the report suggest that to protect their babies, parents should:
- Use glass bottles or polypropylene (the #5 plastic) instead of the hard, shiny, tinted polypropylene.
- Avoid washing baby bottles with harsh detergents in order to reduce leaching, and hand-wash the bottles with soapy water rather than putting them in the dishwasher.
- Heat formula in a separate glass or ceramic container rather than in the bottle.
- Avoid canned goods, which often have polycarbonate liners. (Didn’t see that one coming, did you?)
These recommendations should come as no surprise if you read my blog entry of 12/14/2007 about polycarbonate plastics. You might want to take a look again for suggestions about how to protect yourself, because BPA is hazardous to adults as well as to babies.