BPA and Toxic Baby Bottles
As if the lead paint toy recalls last summer weren’t enough, parents have recently been warned of toxic and potentially dangerous chemicals in items they give their children every day — baby bottles. While the panic over bottles containing Bisphenol A (BPA) had many retailers across the country pulling products off their shelves, a lack of an official recall and published reports of conflicting findings have left parents consulting with their pediatricians and doing their own research to figure out what products are safest for their children.
Animal studies have suggested reproductive and hormone-related problems in children who are exposed to BPA. As recently as Sept. 16, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) released a study showing that adults who have more exposure to BPA are more likely to report having heart disease and diabetes. Canada’s government has proposed banning the sale of baby bottles with BPA as a precaution. And yet, in a scientific hearing held on the same day as JAMA’s study was released, The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continued to defend its position that BPA is safe, pointing to information provided by several studies performed by the plastics industry.
What Is BPA, Exactly?
According to Dr. Gerald LeBlanc, a professor of toxicology and head of the department of environmental and molecular toxicology at North Carolina State University, BPA is a chemical that is used in some plastics. It can serve as a building block and, when assembled, forms some of the chemical constituents of the plastic. According to LeBlanc’s research, manufacturers began to use it in plastics around 1953.
LeBlanc recently served on the “Chapel Hill Bisphenol A Expert Panel,” which reviewed all data on the human health and environmental hazards associated with BPA and published a consensus statement on the risks associated with this compound.
“Evidence in the published scientific literature is strong enough to conclude that exposure of fetuses and neonates to BPA at sufficiently high concentrations can adversely affect development of the brain and reproductive system,” says LeBlanc. “The big question is whether humans are exposed to sufficiently high concentrations to cause such effects. In my opinion, there is enough uncertainty in this question to warrant caution and minimize exposure to BPA-containing materials,” he says.
Mooresville resident Tracey Waid used both Avent and Dr. Brown’s bottle systems for her son, and was planning to use them after the birth of her daughter. At first she wasn’t going to invest in a different set of bottles, but changed her mind after doing some reading.
“I finally decided I couldn’t ignore it when Target, Wal-Mart and Babies “R” Us all announced they were pulling those bottles by the end of the year,” says Waid. “So despite all I have invested in bottles and was hoping to reuse, I have decided to switch to Playtex Drop-Ins for this one.”
Dr. Stephen Ezzo, a pediatrician with Matthew’s Children’s Clinic, a part of the Presbyterian Healthcare system, says he started having patients ask him about his stance on the BPA issue.
“It’s a very difficult situation,” he says. “The risks are based on animals and animal models only. Studies have been done by feeding mice the substance, or injecting the substance. We can only extrapolate the data we have from the mice studies.”
Ezzo believes it’s best to err on the side of caution in this case.
“When given the option, the public will most likely buy BPA-free products. I tell my patients to change their bottles if it isn’t too difficult. More and more parents are becoming aware of this,” he says. “There will be more research going forward.”
As he understands it, Ezzo says manufacturers began using BPA in baby bottles because it hardens the plastic and creates a sturdier bottle. Without it, many bottles were more flexible.
In light of the recent publicity, Charlotte resident Tovi Martin decided to use glass bottles for her daughter.
“We actually got calls from family friends and our daughter’s great-grandmother after the most recent coverage to make sure we saw it. I was so glad to simply say we were already using glass bottles,” she says. “I think it’s absurd that companies are making tons of money on ‘non-BPA’ bottles and products when simple glass bottles have always been that way.”
What You Can Do to Avoid BPA Exposure
• Avoid plastic containers imprinted with the recycling number “7,” as many of those contain BPA.
• Do not warm food in such containers with this number, as heat helps to release the chemical.
• Purchase only products that are labeled BPA-free, or use glass bottles.
Renee Roberson shares the Associate Editor position at Charlotte Parent magazine.