Friday, April 11, 2008

BPA the Next DDT - Says Who?

It was around a year ago that I received the first e-mail about toxic baby bottles. I read it and immediately went to the cupboards to check for sippy cups with the number 7 on the bottom. I only found one. Not surprisingly it was a tacky glittery Mickey Mouse cup I had bought at Disney World. It was very easy to part with it as I had always known it had insidious effects far worse than BPA.

I continued to receive a steady stream of e-mails about Bisphenol A (BPA) , detailing how it is a carcinogenic hormone disruptor, linked to breast cancer, male infertility, obesity and schizophrenia. I soon stopped microwaving and storing food in plastic containers. Eventually, I found myself checking the bottoms of all bottles, in the shower, the fridge and the grocery store. Then I learned that BPA isn’t just used in plastics, but they line cans and canned food with it. In fact, of all things liquid infant formula is a leading offender. Crap!

We used cans of Enfamil for the Freen when we went on road trips. I never thought I would actually be grateful for all the times he puked in the car…the more I thought about it the more I realized we used canned formula quite a bit. They were very convenient.

Plagued with guilt, wondering what kind of irreparable damage I had done to my son’s endocrine system, it occurred to me…where the hell is all of this information coming from? I’ve never been one to accept anything at face value, so why was I cleaning out my cupboards and beating myself up over product choices without doing any due diligence. Eventually like thousands of other moms out there, I took it into my own hands and scoured the Internet researching the origins and effects of BPA.

Generally when I look online for health information I do not (or at least did not used to) go to the Environmental Working Group for information. Working in health care for many years, I generally went straight to the ivory towers, the supposed pillars, proponents and practitioners of evidence based medicine. So the first thing I did was conduct a PubMed Medline search for BPA which returned 4,567 results.

Then a search of American Medical Association (AMA) website returned nothing except two links to articles published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) that are not accessible without a subscription.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) website had no statement or advice but did have two links to articles with brief mention of BPA in dental sealants (yep it’s in them too).

Then a check of the American Academy of Family Physician (AAFP) website yielded a big nothing. Maybe I was looking at the wrong medical specialties.

A search of the Endocrine Society website generated a link to an abstract for a research report presented at their annual meeting in 2007 and a brief reference to The Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction’s (CERHR) expert panel report.

Perhaps the nation’s leading hospital? A search of Mayo Clinic’s Health Information site offered nothing, not even in the Baby's Health section where they advise parents on which formula is right for your baby.

It would seem that either the US medical establishment is asleep at the wheel or the 4,567 papers listed in PubMed are all flawed. What about the government agencies that regulate food and protect public health?

A search of the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) website yielded 124 results but no official statement or position. However a statement from the FDA's Office of Food Additive Safety by biologist Julie N. Mayer, M.F.S. on FDA’s most current position on BPA use is available on Fit Pregnancy's website.

While a search of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website yields 318 results they provide no official statement or advice. However, you will find the summary result of the study which found BPA present in 93% of the 2,517 participants.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has several references to BPA and is home to the The Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction (CERHR) who has published research findings of their expert panel and most recently published the NTP Draft Brief for comment on April 14th, 2008.

Finally, a search of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website yields 894 results against their entire collection and 53 if you limit by Health Risks.

So it would seem that despite 894 environmental and 4,553 medical references to the topic neither respected medical institutions nor government agencies are prepared to make a coherent statement about BPA. Of course there are several groups and companies who have published and promoted clear albeit disparate conclusions about BPA and some even provide entire sites devoted to the subject.

The Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI) website provides a detailed and comprehensive statement on the safety of polycarbonate packaging in the aptly titled plastic and health section.

The American Chemistry Council/American Plastics Council (ACC) has numerous references including several timely press releases and they also provide this detailed information site which comes up right at the top when you google BPA.

In addition, Playtex Bottles, Inc. (Energizer Battery Holdings) has a statement on BPA. AVENT (Phillips) addresses BPA in their FAQ section. Even the pillars of product safety that have no trouble telling you to buy new products at the drop of a dime, the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA) touts the safety of baby bottles in a published statement.

Lucky for us there are numerous bloggers, media outlets and environmental action groups willing to sift through the research and provide some comprehensive and seemingly objective information. The best BPA resource online is the Environmental Working Group. I also found The Milwaukee Journal Sentinal’s review of 258 studies interesting albeit probably not scientifically valid and WebMD has a nice quick and dirty summary.

When I started this post, I began with the intention of understanding the real consequences of BPA exposure and how to avoid it, however, when it comes to BPA the real story is in the information and where it is, and isn’t, coming from. After collecting and analyzing the information, there is no question that I will do everything I can to minimize exposure to BPA for my son and my family, but what I think is more important is what we do as citizen scientists to tell the government and the medical establishment that they need to stop looking out for the interest of big business and do everything they can to look out for the interest of our children.

The good news is that on April 4th Congress sent a letter to the Commissioner of the FDA, Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach requesting additional information surrounding the FDA’s selection of two industry studies as the basis of their recommendations on infant formula liners. I think this will mark a turning point in a very long, very confusing and very heated debate and I hope that the government will respond with a comprehensive and unbiased analysis of the current body of research and plans to commission additional research where needed.

I am in the process of compiling a list of recommendations, facts, resources and a BPA timeline which I will post soon. Please submit comments, questions and any other sources of objective information on BPA you find.


Anonymous said...

Amazing post. Coincidentally, just saw this article on the very same topic:

Anonymous said...

When I was putting together my baby shower registry, I was pretty clueless. I selected a bunch of stuff based on what my friends had or recommended or basically what looked cute. A friend who had a 9 mo. old told me about BPA and gently suggested I buy Born Free bottles instead of Avent. She sent me an article about the hazards and although I added Born Free to the registry, I was still skeptical. I, too, work in the healthcare industry and am often faced with a number of myths, hype, and anxiety surrounding child care, parenting, mental health, etc. I wasn't convinced that BPA was truly harmful because I had never heard about it before, noticed Born Free was more expensive than its competitors, and thought maybe this was just another anxiety-provoked, bottle-industry-driven movement on the "go green" bandwagon. Since that time, I have learned more and am very pleased with the purchase I made. Our children face enough adversity just being born into this world so any little bit we can do to help keep them safe and healthy is well worth it.

Anonymous said...

thank you for this! The whole topic overwhelms, and frankly scares me. I had to formula feed my baby and used Avent the whole time. YIKES~ What have I done? I keep wondering. And WHERE do we buy PVC free sippies?? I can't figure it out... help!

Sustainable Mom said...

Hi Christine

Amazon actually has a decent selection. I haven't tried any yet but I like the design of the foogo products.

Also Z Recommends has a good review of the major brands.

Let me know which you choose and how you like them.

Anonymous said...

we ran out and got the bornfree bottles a few weeks ago, but are disappointed to discover that these bottles leak. does BPA keep the bottles intact? im kind of kidding obviously. a leaky bottle is a small price to pay for a healthy child, but really? at this price shouldnt they be made well?!

Anonymous said...

Date: 04/17/2008 10:17 PM

U.S. Wal-Marts to Pull Baby Bottles With BPA(Washn)

By Ylan Q. Mui

WASHINGTON Wal-Mart will stop selling baby bottles made with the controversial chemical bisphenol A in its U.S. stores early next year, a spokesman said Thursday.

The world's largest retailer had announced Wednesday that it was immediately halting sales of baby bottles, sippy cups, pacifiers, food containers and water bottles made with BPA in its Canadian stores amid speculation that the country's health department would soon declare the chemical unsafe.

The moves follow Monday's release of a draft report from the U.S. National Toxicology Program that expressed concern that BPA, which is used to make plastic, could cause behavioral changes in infants and children and trigger the early onset of puberty in females. The report also said more study should be done.

"Major retailers can be a force in effecting positive change," said Mike Schade of the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, an environmental advocacy group, which has lobbied against the use of BPA. "Parents shouldn't have to roll the dice with their children's health at the checkout aisle."

Wal-Mart has sold BPA-free baby bottles for several years alongside bottles with the chemical. But Thursday was the first time the retailer indicated it would convert its entire U.S. stock.

"We are working hard to expand our BPA-free offerings," Wal-Mart spokesman Nick Agarwal wrote in an e-mail.

Spurred by customer demand, other retailers are also stocking products made without the chemical. A spokeswoman for Target said the chain began testing glass baby bottles in its stores in January and offering them online in February. Babies R Us said its sales of glass bottles have increased fivefold since last spring. It began selling the popular BornFree glass and BPA-free bottles in stores in November.

The American Chemistry Council, an industry group, said yesterday that recent media reports are "unnecessarily confusing and frightening the public." It said the Food and Drug Administration recognizes plastics made with BPA as safe and asked the FDA to update its review to better inform consumers.

Copyright: For copyright information, Los Angeles Times Washington Post.