Like most parents, I have invested a lot of time and money in buying baby bottles, sippy cups and other children’s products that were labeled “BPA-free”. Today, if you shop at any major retailer every bottle on the shelf is labeled “BPA-free”. But this wasn’t always the case.
It has only been because of consumer demand that the use of polycarbonate baby bottles containing BPA has been phased out. By 2009, all of the major baby bottle manufacturers and major retailers had gone "BPA-free."
BPA is a hormone disrupting chemical which mimics the female sex hormone, estrogen, and exposure during development has been linked to wide range of health problems including reproductive harm, altered brain development and even cancer later in life.
But parents have to be on their guard because polycarbonate bottles containing BPA are still legal to sell. I have often worried about what happened to all those polycarbonate baby bottles that were taken off the store shelves. Are they being sold in at a deep discount elsewhere? Were the bottles stocked away in some warehouse and will they resurface after the “BPA-free” marketing craze ends? And who is making sure the alternatives are safe?
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is the federal agency responsible for ensuring the safety of our food supply, including the safety of food containers. They regulate chemicals used in baby bottles, sippy cups, infant formula, food and beverage cans. All of which can have BPA in them.
My organization, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), filed a petition over three years ago asking the FDA to revoke their approval for the use of BPA in all food contact applications. This included baby bottles and sippy cups. The FDA never responded to that petition and we have had to resort to suing us to get a response.
Over the past three years, in the absence of any federal regulation, 11 states (the latest being California), have banned the use of BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups. Canada, the European Union and even China, have banned this use of BPA.
We, as a nation, are woefully behind in protecting our most vulnerable.
Last Friday, the American Chemistry Council (ACC), a trade organization for the chemical industry, issued a press release which was widely covered in the news. The ACC is also asking the FDA to revoke approval of BPA for use in baby bottles and sippy cups.
This is good, right?! Isn’t this something we all want the FDA to do? Won’t this ensure that BPA is removed from baby bottles once and for all?
Yes...but wait a minute, there is something else going on here.
The ACC represents all the BPA manufacturers. They have a vested interest in keeping BPA on the market and they already lost the baby bottle market over two years ago. The ACC has wasted millions of dollars trying to block any regulation of BPA, including Californian’s recent ban on the use of BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups. They even had a secret meeting where they concluded the best way to improve BPA’s image was to find a pregnant young mother who could be their spokesperson!
Removing BPA from baby bottles and sippy cups is not enough. We still need to be on our guard and we need to demand more change. Over 90% of the population carries BPA in their bodies and we aren’t getting it from baby bottles.
Canned food, including liquid infant formula, is still the biggest source of BPA exposure for most people. We know that simple changes in diet can have dramatic effects on a person’s BPA level. And some canned food manufacturers are already moving away from using BPA in their cans. We have more tips on how to avoid BPA exposure here.
Though, this isn't a problem we should solve ourselves. We need the FDA to step up and remove BPA entirely from the food supply. Their job is to protect the public’s health, not corporate interests.
Furthermore, we need assurance that the alternatives to replace BPA are safe.
Years after we were done with them, I found out that the BPA-free bottles I bought for my daughter were made with a chemical called bisphenol S -- a common BPA replacement which has not been adequately tested but is concerning for its own endocrine disrupting potential.
The reason chemicals end up being used in consumer products without being adequately tested is because of an outdated and ineffective law called the Toxic Substances Control Act. NRDC is a co-founding member of the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families campaign and we are working to revise this law and ensure that chemicals are safe before they can be used.