Originally published Dec. 14, 2009. Updated Jan. 15, 2010.
The Food and Drug Administration was to have ruled weeks ago whether Bisphenol A is safe for continued use in food packaging and other food-related products, including some water bottles, baby bottles and an array of food packaging. On Jan. 15, the FDA ruled that the effects of Bisphenol A, while concerning, based on independent research, were not conclusive enough to take action. Instead, the agency ordered more research, and made some recommendations for parents who want to avoid Bisphenol A.
The FDA determined that there are small amounts of BPA in liquid infant formula sold in cans, but that the "proven benefit of good nutrition outweighs the potential risk of BPA exposure." Powdered infant formula mix typically has no detectable levels of BPA.
Health advocates, like Sarah Jenssen, a scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the new ruling falls short. "More research is always a good idea but there comes a time when we know enough to act and that time has come for BPA," she writes.
In several ways, the announcement seemed to backtrack from the assessment of one key federal official. "It's simple enough to avoid," Linda Birnbaum, director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Toxicology Program, told paper in a recent exclusive interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "So, why not avoid a problem?"
Bisphenol A was first developed as a synthetic estrogen before industry discovered a wide range of uses for the chemical. It's been used to make certain plastics hard, to coat paper, to line cans of food and drink, and for a number of other uses. You rarely, if ever, see it on an ingredient list, though. So even though Birnbaum implies it's easy to avoid, that's not the case.
Exposure to the chemical has been linked to a long list of health problems -- everything from obesity to breast cancer -- based on laboratory studies.
Since concerns have been magnified about the chemical over the past couple years, several baby bottle manufacturers have stopped using Bisphenol A, and Sunoco, a major manufacturer of the chemical, has stopped selling it for use in baby bottles. Canada has restricted its use in children's products. Though several states have proposed bans on the chemical in certain consumer products, like baby items, the chemical remains in wide use, in great part because the FDA has, to date, endorsed it as "safe." (Sunday, the senators from New York proposed a federal ban on BPA in children's products.)
We turn to the research at ZRecs for a look at just how hard it is to figure out which products you're supposed to avoid, if you're trying to avoid Bisphenol A. ZRecs focuses on safe children's products (though there are many adult products listed here, too, like water bottles). They don't get into the total risk of exposure for a typical American, especially considering that the lining of cans (according to Consumer Reports, 19 canned foods -- every single can tested -- contained measurable levels of BPA), as well as the coating on many sales receipts can leach the chemical to our hands and food. Nonetheless, this list can help you avoid some of the products that contain BPA.
According to ZRecs
Certain baby bottles, including some made by Avent, Dr. Brown's, Evenflo, Gerber, Innobaby, Luvable Friends, Munchkin, Nuby (Luv n' Care), Playskool, Playtex, Second Nature, The First Years (Learning Curve). There are also many safe baby bottles on the market, including both glass and plastic bottles, that are made without BPA. More on safe baby bottles.
Certain bath toys, including some made by Kel-Gar, Inc. and Sassy. There are many bath toys that don't contain BPA, though many have phthalates or PVC, two other suspect chemicals. There are also many BPA-free infant toys available.
Certain breastfeeding aids, including some made by Ameda, Dr. Brown's, Evenflo, and Playtex. There are BPA-free breastfeeding aids on the market, too, though some contain nanoparticles that are a growing concern to some consumers.
Certain cups, water bottles and water dispensers, including some made by Gaiam, iSi, Nathan, Rubbermaid, Tupperware and Zak! Designs. There are BPA-free cups water bottles and water dispensers on the market, too.
Certain sippy cups and straw cups, including some made by Evenflo, Nuby (Luv 'n Care), Playskool, Playtex, Sassy, Second Nature and Zak! Designs. There are many BPA-free sippy cups and straw cups on the market as well.
Certain tableware and utensils, including some made by Baby Dipper, Evenflo, IKEA, Munchkin, Nuby (Luv n' Care), Sassy, Tupperware. There are many BPA-free tableware sets and utensils on the market too.
The FDA calls the following "simple, reasonable steps families and parents can take to minimize exposure to BPA." The are reprinted from the Department of Health and Human Services Website.
1. Follow Recommended Guidelines to Feed Your Infant
HHS supports the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations for infant feeding and supports breastfeeding for at least 12 months whenever possible, as breast milk is the optimal source of nutrition for infants. If breastfeeding is not an option, iron-fortified infant formula is the safest and most nutritious alternative. The benefit of a stable source of good nutrition from infant formula and food outweighs the potential risk of BPA exposure. Parents should discuss any significant changes to your babys diet with your babys doctor or nurse.
2. Discard Scratched Baby Bottles and Infant Feeding Cups
Worn baby bottles and cups are likely to have scratches that harbor germs and - if they contain BPA - may release small amounts of the chemical. The six major U.S. manufacturers of baby bottles and infant feeding cups, which represent 90% of the domestic market, have confirmed to FDA that as of January 2009, they do not use BPA. These manufacturers produce brands that include Avent, Doctor Browns Natural Flow, Evenflow, First Essentials, Gerber, Munchkin, Nuk, and Playtex.
3. Temperature Matters
Be careful how you heat up your childs breast milk or formula. Studies have found there is a very small amount of BPA in plastics and other packaging materials that can transfer to food and liquids. Additional traces of BPA levels are transferred when hot or boiling liquids or foods come in contact with packaging made of BPA.
4. Check the Labels on Your Bottles and Food Preparation Containers
As a good household practice, only use containers marked dishwasher safe in the dishwasher and only use microwave safe marked containers in the microwave. As a good household practice, discard all food containers with scratches, as they may harbor germs and may lead to greater release of BPA. Plastic containers have recycle codes on the bottom. In general, plastics that are marked with recycle codes 1, 2, 4, 5, and 6 are very unlikely to contain BPA. Some, but not all, plastics that are marked with recycle codes 3 or 7 may be made with BPA.
For more information about Bisphenol A and the other ubiquitous hormone-disrupting chemical of the moment, phthalates, see The Daily Green's How to Avoid Bisphenol A and Phthalates. Also see how to avoid exposure to Bisphenol A and other breast cancer risk factors.
Enter your city or zip code to get your local temperature and air quality and find local green food and recycling resources near you.