Dear EarthTalk: Is it true that some baby bottles contain chemicals that can cause health problems for babies? If so, how can I find alternatives that are safer?
— Amy Gorman, Berkeley, CA
No links connecting specific human illnesses to chemicals oozing out of baby bottles have been proven definitively. Nonetheless, many parents are heeding the call of scientists to switch to products with less risk. A 2008 report by American and Canadian environmental researchers entitled “Baby Toxic Bottle” found that plastic polycarbonate baby bottles leach dangerous levels of Bisphenol-A (BPA), a synthetic chemical that mimics natural hormones and can send bodily processes into disarray, when heated.
All six of the leading brands of baby bottles tested, Avent, Disney/The First Years, Dr. Brown’s, Evenflo, Gerber, and Playtex leaked what researchers considered dangerous amounts of BPA. The report calls on major retailers selling these bottles including Toys ‘R Us, Babies ‘R Us, CVS, Target, Walgreens, and Wal-Mart, to switch to safer products.
According to the report, BPA is a developmental, neural, and reproductive toxicant that mimics estrogen and can interfere with healthy growth and body function. Researchers cite numerous animal studies demonstrating that the chemical can damage reproductive, neurological, and immune systems during critical stages of development. It has also been linked to breast cancer and to the early onset of puberty.
So what’s a concerned parent to do? Glass bottles are a tried-and-true chemical-free solution, and they are widely available, though very breakable. To the rescue are several companies making BPA-free plastic bottles (out of either PES/polyamide or polypropylene instead of polycarbonate). Some of the leaders are BornFree, thinkbaby, Green to Grow, Nuby, Momo Baby, Mother’s Milkmate, and Medela’s. These brands are available at natural foods stores, directly from manufacturers, or from online vendors.
Most of the major brands selling BPA-containing bottles are now also offering or planning to offer BPA-free versions of their products. Consumers should read labels and packaging carefully to make sure that any product they are considering buying says unequivocally that it does not contain the chemical.
Unfortunately, switching to a BPA-free bottle is no guarantee the chemical won’t make its way into your baby’s bloodstream anyway. BPA is one of the 50 most-produced chemicals in the world. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), it is used in everything from plastic water jugs labeled #7 to plastic take-out containers, baby bottles, and canned food liners. It is so omnipresent that the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) has found that 95 percent of Americans have the chemical in their urine.
Also, nursing mothers, especially those who haven’t discarded their old BPA-containing Nalgene water bottles, may be passing the chemical along through their breast milk. And if that weren’t enough, BPA is also used in the lining of many metal liquid baby formula cans. The nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG) has posted email links to the consumer affairs offices of the major formula manufacturers so concerned parents can ask them to remove BPA from their product offerings and packaging.