Attention shoppers: Now on sale, baby bottles made of possibly toxic plastic.
Such offers come as the tide seems to be turning even further against polycarbonate, the plastic often used in brand-name baby bottles.
But even as opposition grows to Bisphenol-A, the chemical that leaches out of these plastics and that can cause hormonal and neurological changes in small bodies, the baby industry continues to make polycarbonate bottles and mainstream retailers continue to sell them, sometimes very cheaply.
I wrote about this topic weeks ago for MainStreet that a panel organized by the NIH's National Toxicology Program has expressed "some concern" that even low levels of BPA can cause harm to fetuses, infants and children. The panel released its report after a long and controversial examination of existing studies on BPA. This is the first time a government agency has acknowledged a problem with BPA. Last July the FDA wrote a letter to Fit Pregnancy magazine reiterating its stance that the chemical is safe.
Meanwhile, a Canadian newspaper has reported that its government is expected to officially declare BPA a "toxic" substance.
This follows a report that came out at the start of the year in USA Today and other newspapers that polycarbonate bottles release BPA far more rapidly after they are exposed to heat (say from the superheated water in a dishwasher, or too hot formula).
It's getting harder for the plastics industry to keep insisting that there is no good reason to start phasing out polycarbonate in favor of safer plastics. The baby goods industry -- more sensitive to pubic outcry than some others -- has clearly gotten to the point where it can't ignore the controversy.
But a significant change such as replacing one major manufacturing material for another would be disruptive, cost time and money and perhaps cause some parents to change their buying habits, so it's easier and safer bottom-line wise for these companies to keep doing what they're doing. It seems most makers of baby goods aren't going to give up polycarbonate until the government, or public outcry, forces them to.
Small, niche companies like Adiri and Born Free are coming out with entire lines of polycarbonate-free products. Meanwhile, bigger, more established brands have added one or two bottles made from alternative plastic to their line-up while continuing to sell the BPA-laced ones, often tagging the word "natural" somewhere onto the product to convey a warm and fuzzy feeling about it.
One popular bottle, Dr. Brown's Natural Flow (see, there's that word again), displays on its Web site five different versions of its "standard" polycarbonate bottle along with two glass versions and a relatively recent Polypropylene bottle (that I can't actually find on sale anywhere). But it lines them up in a row on its homepage, presenting its polycarbonate bottle and the safer alternatives as equal and equally harmless options. Just as you might or might not have cheese on your hamburger, you can have your baby bottles with or without a controversial and potentially dangerous chemical.
Retailers often don't know what's in the products they stock because manufacturers don't have to list product ingredients. It seems most are content to practice their own version of don't-ask, don't-tell and rely on the manufacturers' marketing material to speak for itself.
For example, on the Babies-R-Us Web site (http://www.toysrus.com/product/index.jsp?productId=2919699) a page for Evenflo tinted bottles notes that they "do not contain bisphenol-A (BPA), which is important to some consumers." Another page describes Born Free bottles as "Made from a safe, honey-colored plastic called Polyamide that is free of Bisphenol-A." These indirect acknowledgements that not all bottles are equally safe doesn't prevent Babies-R-Us from selling other popular brands like Avent, which is so far are unapologetically continuing to use polycarbonate.
Similarly, PriceGrabber notes that parents who buy Fashion Tint bottles from Gerber (GRB) can "can feel good about using them" because they are "made of a polypropylene plastic and are BPA free and PVC free." This makes you wonder how parents who use other Gerber bottles that aren't explicitly BPA free should feel.
During a sale that's going on right now BabyCenter is offering a few BPA-free bottles from Medela and Nuby alongside a plethora of questionable options from Dr. Brown's, Avent and others.
Again, the result of jumbling one or two alternative bottles in among all the polycarbonates is that eschewing BPA seems like just another consumer option rather than an important differentiation.
The Z Recommends blog has a good round up that enumerates which bottles from major brands are safe and which aren't. It also grades makers of baby products on their commitment to BPA-free products and their willingness to discuss the issue. Among the companies receiving a "poor" are popular brands like Avent and Hasbro's HAS Playskool.
Gerber, Energizer's ENR Playtex, Rubbermaid (NWL) and Munchkin, which is sold at Target (TGT), all received "fair" grades for having a mixed bag of products.
Until the baby products industry catches up with the news at least parents can head to the stores armed with more information than ever.