February 28, 2007

About That BOTTLE OF DEATH You Just Put In The Kid's Mouth. Again.

toxic_bottles_of_doom.jpg
Bottles of Doom in order of descending toxicity, l to r:
Avent, Evenflo, Gerber, Dr. Brown's, Playtex

This just in from Environment California, an advocacy group which commissioned the University of Missouri to test five major brands of hard, clear baby bottles for leaching of the chemical Bisphenol A, a major building block of polycarbonate plastic:

The dose of leached Bisphenol A turns out to be up to 1,000 times higher than levels known to cause harm and health problems in laboratory animals. Exposure to low levels of Bisphenol A has been linked to "cancers, impaired immune function, early onset of puberty, obesity, diabetes, and hyperactivity."

Stop scaring people, says a press release from the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association, which includes makers of all the products tested--and which is headed by a senior executive at polycarbonate-friendly Munchkin:

The data released at the California State Capitol was misleading and needlessly frightening to consumers. There is significant data available on the safety of BPA. From baby bottles and food packaging, to bicycle helmets and eyeglass lenses, as well as incubators and components of many life-saving medical devices, polycarbonate plastic makes everyday lives better and safer.
"Polycarbonate plastic has been the material of choice in baby bottles for 25 years," they pointed out reassuringly. And it's not like childhood diabetes, childhood obesity, or early onset puberty have exactly been rising during that time.

From an SFGate story: "Representatives of the bottle companies said their products meet federal standards and argued that exposure from plastic bottles, cups and other food containers doesn't pose any known risk to human health...

Steve Hentges, an industry spokesman at the American Chemistry Council, criticized the tests ordered by Environment California and performed at the University of Missouri, one of the few labs that can do the tests.

The tests didn't adequately simulate the real use of bottles and the exposure to babies, he said. In any case, the leached amounts were low, he said.

On Tuesday, leading university bisphenol A researchers disagreed with Hentges. In the last several years, dozens of independent studies, most sponsored by government agencies, have shown that the chemical can cause serious problems in lab animals at low doses, they said. You know, I'd be a little less worried and a little more skeptical if the industry lobbyists' reassurances about the state of the science weren't flatly contradicted by researchers themselves, and if their CYA-filled press release had a little more to it than, "We're as safe as the government regulators tell us we have to be."

Toxic Baby Bottles, full report in pdf [environmentcalifornia.org]
Lawmaker wants state to follow city's lead with 'toxic toy' ban [sfchronicle]
JPMA Supports Safety of Baby Bottles [jpma.org]

So what's a freaked out parent to do? Environment California's recommendations are below. Basically, your entire life is saturated with plastic, so do with them what you will:

evenflo_classic_glass_bottles.jpg

Taken from Environment California's report, "Toxic Baby Bottles," pp26-7, 2/27/07:

At the Store
Choose safer toys and teethers
  • Look for "PVC-free" on the labels of soft plastic toys and teethers.
  • Choose wooden toys.

    Choose safer food packaging and serving containers

  • Avoid polycarbonate plastic in food containers [i.e., "PC" or #7 in or near the recycling triangle. Choose plastics labeled "#1, #2, or #5." Never heat food in plastic of any kind.
  • Avoid PVC plastic in food containers, aka #3 plastic
  • Avoid canned foods.
  • Use #1, #2, or #3 plastic or lightweight stainless steel for sippy cups and water bottles.
  • Use glass or polypropylene-based plastic baby bottles. Evenflo makes glass baby bottles [who knew?] and Medela makes polypropylene bottles.
  • Use metal utensils and enamel or ceramic plates.
  • Avoid foods wrapped in plastic, especially cheeses and meats. [ed.: !]

    At Home

  • Use glass, not plastic, to heat food.
  • Don't use hot water, harsh detergents, or dishwashers for any plastic bottles.
  • Throw out any plastic that starts to look hazy or scratched.
  • Don't let milk sit in plastic for long periods.
  • Don't let kids put plastic toys in their mouths.
  • See? Simple!

    Related: Do rubber duckies have PVC's? Did Harper's see this one coming?

    19 Comments

    I know your post calls this out, but I'm compelled to comment on it anyway: If there's one thing I can't stand, it's the way companies under scrutiny fall back on the "our products meet all applicable goverment standards" line, as if it absolves them of any responsibility.

    When the CR carseat fiasco went down, almost all of the manufacturers issued releases parroting the "regulation-compliant" line.

    BAH. No point to my comment really. I'm just venting.

    [no, exactly. the government talks up market-based solutions, but any time there's an issue of safety, companies immediately fall back on compliance with the government standards they lobby against. -ed.]

    Funny, they don't say if you should use a wooden paddle or leather strap instead of a plastic spatula for corporal punishment...

    [leather=animal, plastic=oil and/or poison, so obviously, wood. from a sustainably harvested forest. -ed.]

    The funny thing is, the CHEC blog had a post about something similar back in November, but they focused on PVC baby bottles. At the time, I was able to confirm, via the Avent website, that they did not use PVC plastics in their bottles (I can "remember" this because I posted it on my blog).

    Now, I can no longer find that info on their website, but instead, they defend their use of Bisphenol-A...

    OK, my wife is a chemist and she read the report. Here's her feedback on the main points of the study:

    She's not an expert on toxicology, so has no opinion on whether bisphenol A is harmful. But she did say that it's a bit pointless to rank which brands are more or less harmful. If 9ppb are bad, 5ppb aren't going to be much better.

    Also, the way they link cause and effect is a bit dubious. The product may cause all those bad things they mention in the report (low sperm count, obesity, Anna Nicole Smith's death, etc.), but the report doesn't make any serious attempt to prove it.

    But where she had the biggest concern was in the methodology of the testing. They filled the bottles with water at 80 degrees for 24 hours, and then tested the water. This was supposed to simulate 50 to 75 dishwasher cycles. Usually, at the end of a cycle, there's no water left in the bottle. So any leached chemicals would rinse out. If it was supposed to simulate the leaching into milk during the time its in the bottle, you'd probably want to design a different test with a lower temperature and less time. Temperature would have large effect on the amount of chemicals that leach out of the bottle.

    Anyone feel better now?

    [the people at Avent, maybe? It's true, every study that involves calculating correllation and statistical significance to show linkage/causality is going to be tricky to apply on a micro/what about MY baby? level. Yet that's the kind of analysis that probably should be informing macro-level policy and regulation decisions, which is this group's ultimate goal. In the face of the apparent statistical evidence, I think at least there's a need to come up with a realistic/plausible methodology, and take this as a reproducible or challengeable starting point. -ed.]

    So, on the one hand, we have a shrill enviropanic org banging its can on scientifically tenuous grounds; on the other, we have a regime in which the most reductive understanding of science is translated into inadequate regulation. Personally, I don't find the fact that the more or less random process by which funded scientific inquiry gets translated into salient regulation all that compelling. On the other, I'm tired of the Jack T. Ripper-esque purity-freaks. But that's not a really big dilemma, because I like cooking with wood and metal. And I try to minimize my trust in plastic in general. This just gives a boost to my vague feeling that I should use more glass -- which was looking for a boost anyway. So thank you.

    [it's hard out there for a parent, nome sane? -ed]

    Were the different brands of baby bottles really ranked in descending order of toxicity? I only looked at the Environment California website, but didn't look at the full report. The website didn't indicate why the brands were listed in that particular order, but coincidentally, they happen to be in alphabetical order.

    [the "descending order of toxicity" tag is mine, and is sarcastic. That said, each picture in the report has BPA level next to it, and they are in descending order. Just one more conspiracy. -ed.]

    Having just put my son through surgery for an undescended testicle at six months old, I'm with TB on this one; I think it's easier to be nitpicky about methodology when you can forget that the caution being espoused is to prevent babies from being born with malformed genitals. Why wouldn't we try to prevent that if there was even a chance that we could?

    Baby bottles are one problem, but if you want to help prevent malformed genitals in your babies, you need to stop ingesting these chemicals yourself. Are there other factors? Sure. Just like smoking isn't the only cause for low birth weight, but you don't see any doctors suggesting that moms smoke through pregnancy either. One reason for that is that smoking is bad for mom too, just like these chemicals are bad for mom as well as baby.

    Someday, plastics companies will make a killing selling us bisphenol and phthalate free (new and improved!) plastic goodies.

    A killing.

    A few weeks ago I impulsively purchased an insanely expensive sippy cup from a company called BORN FREE - it's Bisphenol-A free according to their literature.

    According to their website, Playtex liners are not made with BPA. They're certainly easier to find than in-stock glass bottles.

    I figure it's better safe than sorry with this whole thing. So I came up with a hybrid bottle. I'm using Medela bottles (which are made of polypropylene), and the nipples, collar, and reservoir tube from Dr.Brown bottles (also made of polypropylene). I've found standard Medela nipples collapse and allow too much air to get in the kids stomach.

    Before the whole "bisphenol-a" scare we were using Second nature bottles -- which were great because they never leaked, and allowed my son to suckle in the same manner he did at the breast (since we give feed him breast milk exclusively).

    From the article:

    "Polycarbonate plastic has been the material of choice in baby bottles for 25 years," they pointed out reassuringly. And it's not like childhood diabetes, childhood obesity, or early onset puberty have exactly been rising during that time.

    Errr, say what? Childhood diabetes, childhood obesity, and early onset puberty haven't gone up in the last 25 years? That's certainly not my impression; it would seem to me that all 3 of those have risen significantly.

    [MR, Sarcasm. Sarcasm, MR. -ed.]

    after freaking out over the dr. brown's bottles I gave up and bought the born free bottles that claim to have no Bisphenol A. I hope there's nothing else in them lurking. oh and for a while we were using the glass evenflo but then they just got too heavy...

    I have known about the Bisphenol-A for years and am glad the facts are getting to the general public. OK, so they say some plastics are safe? How do we really know that? I just know that a few years from now they will find that some of these "safe" plastics are bad too. I would go with glass any day. The problem is finding them. Here in Texas, it seems no one watches the news so you can get them at any Babies 'r' us. Most of the online stores are back ordered. I found them at www.ingeling.com
    Get them for your baby! There is no other alternative!

    How can anyone say that childhood diabetes, obesity and early onset puberty are not on the rise!

    I have a 5 year old neice with pubic hair! Her parents feed her all kinds of crap, no fresh food, everything packaged and heated in plastic and she drinks diet cola! How can anyone say there is no relation?

    Also, everywhere you look there are obese children, people who don't care enough to care for their children's nutritional welfare shouldn't bother having them.

    Harsh, I know, but it makes me so mad. Learn to cook people and educate yourselves!!!

    I am 23 years old and my mother used some of these bottles. I turned out just fine. I haven't heard of anybody dying or messed up because of the bottle they used so what is the big deal now?

    I have a preemie baby who is starting to teeth. I just bought Munchkin teethers from Pump Station in Los Angeles. They are made in China. Should I be concerned that they have BPA or PVC? Does anyone know if this brand is safe? I have searched the internet for answers and have found nopne. Any ideas for safe plastic teethers?

    I agree with the guy whose wife is a chemist. The methodology used for testing these plastic bottles is questionable. It may not necessarily reflect on how bottles are used, how long the milk sits in a hot/warm bottle, the cleaning process, etc. But let's face it, hazardous materials are everywhere nowadays. And more than the bottle manufacturers, it is the FDA who I think is the culprit in the turnout of health issues many Americans face, including the effects of BPA. The FDA allows chemicals and additives in our food/food packaging, we get hooked on bad nutrition, we get sick and use the costly medications which have side effects leading to use of additional medication, we have milk supply from cows who are most probably as unnatural as the food being forced fed to them, blah blah blah...and remember, all this is FDA approved. Whatever else we ingest that affect our health and genes we pass on to our babies. It's a sad and sorry cycle, really. I'm no hippy who eats wheat grass for breakfast - just the average american with weight issues who can now read between the lines, and trying to break poor habits. Removing those bottles alone will not solve the problem. Getting the FDA to really do their job and protect our best interests and the future of our babies is the root problem here.

    www.organicgrace.com has glass bottles in stock
    whatever these "BPA free" bottles have replaced it with, they have not done long term testing on it, that's for sure. glass is definitely the safest way to go!

    It can bit difficult to know how to express my emotions these days, you truly did a quantity over at
    my opinion with the post, About That BOTTLE OF DEATH
    You Just Put In The Kid's Mouth. Again..

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