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Utahns discard plastic bottles and containers for BPA-free alternatives

Published April 27, 2008 11:00 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Posted: 7:09 PM- Ever since she heard that a chemical commonly found in baby and water bottles could be linked to reproduction problems, Salt Lake City mom Emily Baker has been cleaning out her cupboards.

She's stored away all her baby bottles and sippy cups, as well as her own Nalgene water bottles. For good measure, she's buying glass food containers.

Baker was recently found shopping at Babies 'R' Us in Midvale for a brand of plastic baby bottles made without the offending chemical, called bisphenol A or BPA. The estrogen-mimicking chemical is used in the production of polycarbonate plastics - the hard plastic used for water and infant bottles and other food containers.

"I know the [studies] aren't conclusive, but it's my kids," she said, with her 3-1/2- and 1-1/2-year-olds in tow. "I'm not going to wait until they are. Why take a chance when you don't have to?"

Local retailers can attest that Baker has company in her cautiousness. Utahns are making a run on stainless steel water bottles, glass baby bottles and BPA-free plastic bottles, sippy cups and pacifiers. Nationally, sales of BPA-free baby products are up five-fold over last year at Toys 'R' Us stores.

The concern

Baker and others have been prompted by recent news that the federal government has concern that BPA could affect neural and behavioral development in fetuses, infants and children based on animal studies. Then Canada announced it would ban the import and sale of polycarbonate baby bottles. Then Wal-Mart and Toys 'R' Us announced they would phase out baby bottles made with BPA. And Nalgene said it would do the same with its water bottles.

Kirkham's Outdoor Products, in South Salt Lake, has seen the fall-out. Operations manager Todd Schultz said sales of Nalgene bottles have dropped off while sales of stainless steel bottles, which are slightly more expensive, have doubled over last year.

"People have heard about it. They're saying, 'I want to make sure I get the right bottle.' "

Still, in announcing their plans to go BPA-free, the three national retailers noted that the FDA considers products made with BPA to be safe. So does the plastics industry, saying BPA is rapidly metabolized.

". . . consumer exposure to BPA does not pose any risk to human health," says the American Chemistry Council.

More study needed Nevertheless, Utah environmental toxicologist Rod Larson said it is wise to be prudent. He said women at risk of breast cancer should avoid food containers made with BPA because it is "essentially a synthetic estrogen. You want to avoid the estrogen if you're at risk of breast cancer." And babies drinking warmed milk shouldn't use bottles with BPA either, since heat - as well as strong detergents - increases the risk of the chemical leaching into the drink.

"I'm not saying it to scare people," said Larson, who uses mostly glass containers. "I recommend being cautious, even when the evidence is only based on animal studies."

The U.S. government report, released by the the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' National Toxicology Program on April 14, said more study needs to be done. But it noted that low doses of BPA given to rodents - similar to the amounts humans are exposed to - have been linked to precancerous lesions in the prostate and mammary glands, altered prostrate gland and urinary tract development and early onset of puberty in females. Studies have also associated BPA in humans to repeat miscarriages and chromosomal defects in fetuses.

Despite the dearth of data on the effects of BPA on humans, the report says the "possibility that bisphenol A may alter human development cannot be dismissed."

Hyper vigilant

Most of the public health concern has focused on children.

Thom Benedict, owner of Earth Goods General Store in Salt Lake City, recently started carrying the Born Free brand of baby bottles and said those BPA-free containers are "flying out the door."

He recently added BPA-free plastic food storage containers. He also sells a polycarbonate water bottle and said the manufacturer, New Enviro, has assured him it won't leach chemicals like BPA as long as it's not left in the sun.

"We're trying to educate our customers about there's different points of view," Benedict said. "Plastics are everywhere. We use it for food storage. How far does this issue carry? Do we need to change all our packaging back to glass and aluminum tin?"

Salt Lake City mother Debbie Sherwin might say, 'Yes.'

After hearing a report about BPA last August, she filled a trash bag full of Nalgene bottles, sippy cups, Dr. Browns and Avent baby bottles, a Thomas the Tank Engine food bowl - anything with the recycling symbol 7 or 3, which are considered most problematic.

Before she was able to buy Born Free bottles for her then 4-month-old, Sherwin felt like she was "poisoning" her daughter.

"I was mortified. I'm warming up the milk in these bottles that are giving her these chemicals."

She admits her anti-plastic vigilance makes her crazy. The conversation jumps from BPA to phalatates - another chemical used in plastic toys and infant care products that could alter human male reproductive development. She threw out Costco-sized bottles of Johnson & Johnson shampoos and conditioners.

"It's so overwhelming. You start with one thing and it goes on and on," she said. "I look at my daughter and my son, who I adore. I would do anything for them to keep them healthy."

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