Toxic Baby Bottles?

Anyone contemplating which baby bottle to buy will find the new government report on bisphenol A sobering reading. Bisphenol A is used to make the ubiquitous plastic polycarbonate (you can tell if a bottle is polycarbonate because it has the number 7 in that recycling icon on the bottom), and there has long been concern that it can harm children because it acts like the hormone estrogen.

The draft report finds more to worry about from bisphenol A, concluding that there is "some concern for neural and behavioral effects in fetuses, infants and children at current human exposures,” and "some concern for bisphenol A exposure in these populations based on effects in the prostate gland, mammary gland and an earlier age for puberty in females." That belies a government report last year that expressed less concern for these effects, in large part because it did not consider a bunch of studies that found toxic effects in lab animals.

As usual, the chemical industry defends bisphenol A, ranting about the "myths" surrounding polycarbonate bottles. But what is particularly striking is the stark difference between what studies funded by industry conclude and what studies funded by the government or academic groups conclude about this chemical. As I wrote in this space almost exactly one year ago:

"Industry-paid studies conclude we shouldn't worry. Of the 13 studies of bisphenol A underwritten by chemical companies, none reported any adverse effects on the lab animals or tissue samples exposed to it, C&EN finds. But of the studies funded by government, 153 found such effects (including obesity, cancer and insulin resistance). . . .  There are all sorts of ways to stack the deck. One is to pick a lab animal that is insensitive to estrogen. Two large studies of bisphenol A that were funded by industry used a strain of rat called Sprague-Dawley, which is well-known to be insensitive even to powerful estrogens. No surprise, then, that the rats showed no ill effects of exposure to bisphenol A, a weaker estrogen."

One concern about bisphenol A is that it might mess up reproductive function. A friend of a friend writes from a meeting of the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners that "it is incredibly alarming what they report from the front lines in terms of possible BPA effects. They are seeing young girls, as young as 6, hitting puberty. Unbelievable. This from pediatric endocrinologists [BPA interferes with endocrine function]."

Fortunately for parents who don't want to take a chance, a few companies, such as Adiri, are now selling bisphenol-free baby bottles. Of course, parents who are perfectly content to wait until the final scientific word is in should go right ahead and use those old polycarbonate bottles. But you might want to get baby used to nice cold drinks: warm liquids cause more bisphenol A to leach out of the bottle, and more also comes out if the bottle is scratched up.

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