October 31, 2007
Toxin Free Baby Bottles
By ELIZABETH WEISE and LIZ SZABO, USA TODAY
SAN FRANCISCO — Consider the Born Free baby bottle.
Jack Gruber, USA TODAY
Worried that daughter Lexie Melendez may have been
affected by a chemical in
plastic, Melissa and Omar Melendez of Fallbrook,
Ill., have stopped using
baby bottles containing bisphenol A.
Hormone-like effects of toxins may do permanent harm.
It's made from a plastic that's five times as
expensive as the one used for
regular baby bottles. And its retail price — $9.50 —
is about triple that of
a conventional bottle.
It's also flying off shelves in stores catering to
parents who want the
safest possible environment for their babies, stores
where items labeled
"bisphenol A-free" and "phthalate-free" line up next
to the cloth diapers
and breast pumps.
To anyone not contemplating parenthood, phthalates
and bisphenol A sound
like something kids bring home on chemistry quizzes,
not cuddle in their
cribs. But these chemicals are actually at the heart
of worldwide scientific
investigation and a debate over whether they are
harmful to the very young.
Marina Borrone, picking apples with her son Maximo,
shuns most plastic
products in favor of old-fashioned glass baby
bottles and wooden toys.
Parents, activists and not a few scientists are
concerned that if a baby
drinks from a bottle made with bisphenol A or gums a
toy made with
phthalates, he or she could suffer serious and even
including genital malformations.
These substances are sometimes called "everywhere
chemicals" because they're
so widely used. Bisphenol A, used to make plastics
shatter-resistant, shows up in water bottles, food
containers, baby bottles,
some dental fillings and the coatings for the inside
of cans containing
Phthalates (pronounced THAL-ates), which make
plastic soft and flexible, are
used in toys, rattles, teethers, car interiors and
medical devices such as
tubing, catheters and intravenous bags.
Nearly every American has been exposed. A 2000 study
by the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention found phthalates in
the urine of 75 percent
of the people tested. CDC research has shown that 95
percent of Americans
have detectable levels of bisphenol-A in their
The American Medical Association last month urged
the Food and Drug
Administration to require labeling of all medical
products containing one
phthalate to protect newborns in hospitals. More
than a hundred hospitals
have begun removing such products from their
The Environmental Protection Agency has asked the
National Academies of
Science to produce a report on phthalates, a process
that could take several
years. The National Academies data would help the
EPA set a "reference dose"
for those chemicals - the maximum amount scientists
think a person could be
exposed to in food and water every day without
The agency also is doing research on the health
effects of bisphenol A and
has begun a risk assessment, likely a multiyear
While the government hasn't made up its mind, more
and more parents have.
Take Marina Borrone of Menlo Park, Calif. For
Borrone, a clean house is
about more than sparkling countertops. She aims to
protect her home from
chemicals she fears could harm her family or the
planet. The restaurant
owner and mom shuns most plastic in favor of
old-fashioned glass baby
bottles and wooden toys.
Her home state is catching up with her. This month,
California Gov. Arnold
Schwarzenegger signed into law the country's first
ban on the use of
phthalates in toys and other kids' products. Under
the law, any product made
for young children that contains more than 1/10th of
1 percent of phthalates
cannot be sold or distributed in California
beginning in 2009.
The chemical industry disagrees with this approach.
"We know that exposure to phthalates is very low,
well within what the EPA
sets as their safety limits," American Chemistry
Council spokeswoman Marian
Stanley says. "We believe that for the amount in
which they're used and the
amounts that people are exposed to, there is not a
Jeremiah McElwee, who oversees health and beauty
products at Whole Foods
Market Inc., says her company stopped selling baby
bottles made of
polycarbonate plastic in January 2006 over concerns
about a form of
bisphenol A used in the plastic.
"The research doesn't say these compounds are bad,"
says Joe Dickson, Whole
Foods' quality-standards coordinator. "It says these
products have a lot of
question marks around them."
The Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association says
in a series of fact
sheets on the safety of bisphenol A that plastic
containing the chemical
"has been rigorously studied and tested by both
industry and government for
Whole Foods' Michaels says many parents naturally
follow the "precautionary
principle," erring on the side of caution to protect
Evenflo has marketed a glass baby bottle since the
era when all baby bottles
were glass, but its plastic bottles contain the
chemical. Gerber sells
several bisphenol A-free bottles, including its
Clear View, Fashion Tints
and Gentle Flow lines. Playtex' Nurser System
disposable liners also do not
contain the chemical.
Small companies focusing on baby bottles without
bisphenol A are doing a
brisk business. BornFree went on sale last year, and
the Adiri Natural
Nurser made its debut this summer.
Adiri can "barely keep up with demand" and ran out
of its smallest size
bottles within a week of their August launch, says
Sarah Eisner, vice
president of sales and marketing.
The chemical industry has responded quickly to the
threat to its market
share. The American Chemistry Council, through a
complaint filed with the
Better Business Bureau, forced BornFree to change
its marketing this year.
The company used to pitch its bottles as a safer
alternative but was ordered
in February not to claim its products are more
child- or eco-friendly.
In December, the National Toxicology Program, part
of the Department of
Health and Human Services, concluded that one form
of phthalate, called
di(2-ethylhexyl) or DEHP, used in intravenous
tubing, catheters and other
flexible plastic medical equipment, could pose a
risk to the proper
development of baby boys' reproductive tracts.
Infants who spend weeks in neonatal intensive care
units may be exposed to
high levels of the chemical, according to the FDA.
Major hospital chains
such as Kaiser Permanente, Catholic Healthcare West,
Consorta and Premier,
have pledged to phase out medical equipment made
with DEHP, especially in
The European Union, representing 27 nations, decided
in 2005 to ban three
forms of phthalates in toys and child-care items and
restrict the use of
three others in items children might put in their
mouths. Canada has had a
voluntary agreement not to use phthalates in kids'
products since 1998.
The controversy may end up in court in the United
States. In Los Angeles
Superior Court, Melissa Melendez and other parents
joined a class action
lawsuit this year against manufacturers and sellers
of baby bottles
containing bisphenol A.
Melendez says she fears that the chemical, leaching
from bottles, may have
caused her 19-month-old daughter Lexie to suffer
signs of premature puberty.
"It makes me so upset," says Melendez, 25, of
Fallbrook, Calif. "To think I
might have been harming her without even knowing
A hearing is scheduled for Feb. 28.
Jack Gruber, USA TOD
For products without harmful chemicals