RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Consumer demand for BPA-free baby bottles has already led many manufacturers, retailers, and even state and city governments to ban the toxic chemical in products marketed to children. Now, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the government agency that dragged its feet in banning BPA for years—despite convincing evidence that the chemical is not safe— is reportedly moving forward with an official federal ban on the chemical's use in baby bottles and children's sippy cups. So why now? The BPA bottle ban rumblings come just days after the American Chemistry Council, a trade group representing the chemical industry, asked FDA to ban BPA in bottles only.
While that's certainly a step in the right direction, it doesn't come close to controlling the damage that BPA can inflict on children. The fact that it's still allowed to be used in baby food containers and in canned food consumed by pregnant women means that infants and babies will still be exposed.
"This is a bit of damage control being done. The American Chemical Society is saying that the FDA should ban it in baby bottles, but it's currently not in most baby bottles," explains BPA expert Laura Vandenberg, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology at Tufts University in Massachusetts. (Though she adds that baby bottles sold at dollar stores still often contain the chemical.) "Greenwashing is a great way to describe what is going on—it's an attempt to look like they're protecting consumers, when in fact consumers are being exposed to dozens of other BPA sources."
Indeed, the bottle ban (which is compelling because who wants to think about babies slurping down BPA?) may actually dissuade legislators from tackling a more comprehensive ban of major sources of BPA exposure, most likely food cans, cash-register receipts, recycled paper (contaminated with BPA-laden receipts during the recycling process), and plastic medical devices such as replacement joints and tubing, Vandenberg says.
"Advocates think it's a big step forward, but the bottle ban is just using the underlying current of fear to make it look like a change has happened, when in fact no change has happened," Vandenberg says. "It's putting a kink in changing where real human exposures are coming from."
What the FDA is still ignoring is the BPA lurking in food packaging, which affects babies, kids, and adults. In fact, Vandenberg says the major concern for babies is exposure in utero, meaning if Mom's eating canned food and handling receipts, she's probably exposing her undeveloped child to a chemical that could cause disease and hormonal imbalances decades later in the offspring's life.
"It's great that the chemical industry wants to finally stop fighting the science and public opinion and join us in saying that BPA has no place in baby bottles and sippy cups," says Janet Nudelman, policy director at the Breast Cancer Fund. "Now it's time for industry to go one step further and support legislative efforts to rid all food packaging of BPA."
So what's the deal? The FDA is notorious for not adequately protecting human health by allowing all sorts of chemically laden products onto the market without adequate testing. (The testing, in fact, is being done on the general population while scientists try to catch up.) For years, scientists warned of BPA's estrogenic, hormone-disrupting properties, and studies suggest its effects could cause problems, from infertility to cancer, as well as other serious health issues, decades after exposure. Just teeny amounts of the chemical have been shown to cause adverse effects, but it's so commonly used—we're talking tons every year—it's even detected in the air, water, and even sand.
Where is it? BPA is used in the epoxy resin liners of most canned food and drinks. A recent Breast Cancer Fund report detected high levels of BPA in children's soups, including popular Campbell's kid soups. (Eden Foods is one of the few companies that uses an alternative and discloses the replacement substance.) BPA is also used on the underside of baby food jar lids, on the coating of many receipts, in recycled-paper products, and even airplane boarding passes.
How do we avoid it? Opt for fresh or frozen foods, avoid bottles and plastic dinnerware, since some are still made of BPA-containing No. 7 plastic, and ask cashiers to avoid printing up trivial receipts. Since it's unclear whether the chemical replacements used in BPA-free baby bottles and sippy cups are safe, opt instead for glass bottles, like those from Life Factory, or stainless steel bottles and cups, such as those made by Klean Kanteen.
Filed Under: BPA AND PLASTIC
Published on: October 14, 2011