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Environment Matters: Child Safety: Don’t Overlook the Baby Bottle

New America Media, Commentary, Gina Solomon, MD Posted: Jul 20, 2009

Editor’s Note: Last week, California’s Developmental and Reproductive Toxicant Identification Committee refused to put the chemical Bisphenol A (BPA) on the Prop 65 list of toxic chemicals. BPA is commonly found in baby bottles and, as NAM contributor Dr. Gina Solomon notes, it has been linked to reproductive health problems, developmental abnormalities and obesity.

I went to visit my baby nephew in Florida not too long ago. He was a year old at the time, and an adorable child. But I was distressed to see him drinking out of a brightly colored plastic baby bottle.

Most people don’t get upset about baby bottles, but as a doctor who works on environmental health issues, I know too much.

Plastic baby bottles are usually made with a chemical called “Bisphenol A” (BPA). More than six billion pounds per year of this chemical are made in the United States for plastic bottles, food can liners, dental uses, and as paper coatings and adhesives.

Over the years, several hundred scientific studies have shown that BPA is probably not safe. This chemical mimics estrogen in people’s bodies, and studies (so far only in laboratory animals) have shown that it causes a host of reproductive health problems, as well as developmental abnormalities in babies.

BPA is also unique because it has been linked to obesity. This chemical can permanently re-set hormones that affect the “fat meter” in the body, causing a predisposition to obesity. Studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed BPA in the urine of about 93 percent of the thousands of people tested. Concentrations of BPA were significantly lower in Mexican Americans than in non-Hispanic blacks and non-Hispanic whites. Women had statistically higher concentrations than men, and children had higher concentrations than adults.

Because BPA is a huge moneymaker for the chemical industry, it has public relations firms, armies of lawyers and its own hired scientists to defend the chemical. Their formerly secret "playbook" relies on casting doubt on the extensive scientific evidence of harm. I feel pure outrage when political and legal tactics put the health of babies and children at risk.

I’m still steaming over a vote last week from the Developmental and Reproductive Toxicant Identification Committee, a politically appointed committee in California, which fell short of listing this chemical on the state’s “Proposition 65” list. Prop. 65 is a right-to-know law passed by California voters that requires warnings when companies expose people to chemicals known to cause cancer or reproductive harm. A vote to include BPA on that list would have forced stores to ensure that products that contain this chemical have a warning label on them.

As far as environmentalists are concerned, the vote is not the last word on this issue. We have science on our side, and we also have a few lawyers of our own. Public health advocates have asked the California Environmental Protection Agency to take another -- and more careful -- look at this chemical. Specifically, the agency was asked to look at a report by the U.S. National Toxicology Program that concluded that there is "clear evidence of adverse effects" in laboratory animals, including fetal death, reduced growth, and delayed puberty. The committee ignored this important information, and we believe it needs to be considered and the public must be warned.

Other efforts to protect the public are moving ahead. State legislation is pending in California, similar to what has already passed in Connecticut, Minnesota, Chicago and Suffolk County, N.Y., to ban BPA in baby products. Many companies have also taken voluntary action, including some baby bottle manufacturers who have stopped using this chemical in their products.

Federal chemical policy reform is also desperately needed to change the way industrial chemicals are tested and used in this country. Chemical manufacturers should be required to prove their products are safe before they are put in products and released into our bodies and the environment. And the public has a right to know about the health and environmental risks posed by new and existing chemicals, and where those chemicals are being used.

For many parents and doctors, there is plenty of evidence to justify action. My nephew is drinking from BPA-free bottles now.

Dr. Gina Solomon is a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, a national nonprofit environmental and health organization, and an associate clinical professor of medicine at UCSF, where she teaches at the pediatric environmental health speciality unit. She is a physician with dual specialties in internal medicine and occupational/environmental medicine.

Related Articles:

Reaching Puberty Early

Keeping the Economy Green - Green Jobs for the Black Community

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