Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Bisphenol A?

A friend alerted me to the bisphenol A controversy that's been brewing among parents and soon-to-be parents of newborns and very young children. Well, to be honest, I'd heard some rumblings about it before but only after she mentioned it did I start really looking into it. To summarize briefly, bisphenol A is a chemical used in the production of polycarbonate (ie. Nalgene) that is leached into food or beverages that are stored or served in the container. Parents are particularly concerned because a) most baby bottles are made of polycarbonate and therefore contain bisphenol A; b) baby bottles are heated and therefore more bisphenol A is leached compared to containers that are not heated; c) babies who drink formula or pumped breast milk get daily exposure to plastic leachables and d) babies have a small mass so even low levels may be more dangerous. Plastic manufacturers argue that the doses leached are more than 500x below dangerous levels.

As usual, it's been a serious case of information overload. I believe in making educated decisions but this is one of those cases where I feel a certain level of expertise would be required in order to understand the nuances of the argument. I don't believe that I would be able to acquire the necessary expertise to make a decision in a timely fashion. Now, I have some background in plastics and plastic manufacturing - and their biological effects. If I can't figure out what's going on in this argument what is everyone else supposed to do? What are we left with? I suspect most people make their decision based on a combination of risk aversion and trust/mistrust. Most people know to some extent or another that all plastics leach small amounts of some chemicals. Most people know that you shouldn't heat your food in plastic containers. However, most people do it anyway. The reason, I think, that this issue has raised such alarm among bottle users is because most parents seem to be extremely risk averse if the risk will be assumed by their child. Comingled with this is an inherent mistrust of big corporations by the public and an inherent trust in government or non-profit organizations.

In my own mind, this risk aversion often leads to a bit of hysteria and is the 'cause' of the huge fads that come and go in parenting. Does that mean I'm not susceptible - no way! Even for myself (and at the urging of my husband) I have recently switched to 'unleaded' dishes and carry my lunch to work in a glass container. How should I weigh the 20+ studies by plastics manufacturers that say levels of bisphenol A in polycarbonate are safe against the less than 5 studies by non-profit groups that say they aren't? Do the higher number of studies that claim polycarbonates are safe mean they are 'more likely to be accurate' or are they 'less likely to be accurate' because they were reported by the people who profit from plastic sales? Ahh the dilemma!

I'm open to allowing people to make their own choices and won't even suggest that I know enough to make a recommendation to anyone. I do suspect, though, that my own risk aversion and the relative ease of switching to glass bottles will likely have me looking into bisphenol A free bottles that are compatible with my pump. "You never know!" and "Just in case" are phrases that are quickly becoming common in my vocabulary.

Talk to you soon,


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