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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 permanent harm,
including genital malformations.

These substances are sometimes called "everywhere chemicals" because they're
so widely used. Bisphenol A, used to make plastics strong and
shatter-resistant, shows up in water bottles, food containers, baby bottles,
some dental fillings and the coatings for the inside of cans containing
foods.

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 bodies.

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 neonatal nurseries.

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 suffering harm.

The agency also is doing research on the health effects of bisphenol A and
has begun a risk assessment, likely a multiyear process.

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 problem."

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
decades."

Whole Foods' Michaels says many parents naturally follow the "precautionary
principle," erring on the side of caution to protect their children.

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
nurseries.

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 it."

A hearing is scheduled for Feb. 28.

Jack Gruber, USA TOD

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