Thursday, April 17, 2008

Baby, Water Bottles Dangerous to Health

As I've been telling my friends ever since I wrote an article for Sierra Magazine on the subject, those attractive, hard-plastic water bottles that come in vivid, see-through colors, just aren't safe.

And that goes in spades for the baby bottles made from the same substance, polycarbonate plastic. You can usually identify bottles made of this plastic from the "#7 Other" recycling code on the bottom. One of the most popular manufactuers is Nalgene, but just yesterday, the company announced that it will stop production because of public concern.

The problem is a chemical called bisphenol-A, now recognized as a hormone disrupter that mimics estrogen. Ten years ago, as I reported in Sierra, a geneticist at Case Western University found that mice accidentally exposed to it from their plastic cages developed a high rate of chromosomal abnormalities.

Here's an excerpt from the just-released draft report on it from the National Toxicology Program (click on "draft report" in the right column to read it):

"The NTP concurs with the conclusion of the CERHR Expert Panel on Bisphenol A that there is some concern for neural and behavioral effects in fetuses, infants, and children at current human exposures. The NTP also has 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." (italics from the report)

Bear in mind that this alarming report is coming from a most cautious federal agency. The list of possible other health effects is much longer. Scientists who've reviewed all the studies not funded by industry are very alarmed, and believe the chemical may be a cause of breast cancer. Something in our environment (my italics) is pumping up the breast cancer rate, as women have long suspected, and something is lowering the age of puberty for girls. The frustration has been not knowing which of the myriad chemicals to which we are exposed are causing these effects.

Here's the bottom line: this chemical may very well be particuarly dangerous for fetuses. Tell any pregnant women you know not to use these water bottles. And new parents should use other kinds of plastic baby bottles (soft or cloudy-colored plastic bottles don't contain it) or old-fashioned, but sanitary and safe, glass. Ditto for sippy cups or dishes.

The bad news, however, is that while we can choose to avoid those products, babies drinking infant formula will still be exposed to it. Most canned food sold in America is coate with the stuff. Last year, the Environmental Working Group found it in 55 of 97 cans they tested. And, even worse, they found the highest levels of the chemical in infant formula, at levels that had caused serious adverse harm to animals.

And by the way, don't be persuaded by industry people saying animal studies don't prove anything about how something will affect people. They use animal studies all the time to prove the safety of drugs they want to sell before they test them in people.

It may be years before the U.S. Food & Drug Administration acts to stop use of this chemical, but other countries, as usual these days, are already acting. The New York Times reported Wednesday that Canada is apparently close to declaring it a toxic chemical. And Wal-Mart Canada just announced it will stop selling products containing it.

As I've said before on this blog, we should stop walking for the cure but for real prevention. (Early detection is not prevention, despite the bill of goods sold to so many cancer survivors.) Bisphenol-A may cause cancer as well as birth defects and harm to reproductive organs. It's not filling some essential need. So why should we be exposed to it ?

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