For Parents, Bottle Safety Still Unclear

By Renae Merle and Ylan Q. Mui
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The hot topic of conversation among the mothers at Melissa Bazarian's play group in Arlington this weekend wasn't baby strollers, diapers or first words but baby bottles: clear or cloudy?

Clear bottles are likely to include bisphenol A and have for decades. Periodically, however, environmental and consumer groups have questioned the chemical's safety. Those questions are arising again, even though the Food and Drug Administration says not to worry and the plastic industry stresses the chemical's many years of use.

But in a year when Thomas and Friends trains and toy cars have turned on them because of lead-paint concerns, parents are sensitive to everything their little ones touch.

Although no conclusive scientific evidence exists that bisphenol A, a chemical widely used in plastics, is harmful to children, last month a panel of the National Institutes of Health said exposure to the chemical raises "some concerns" for children. At the same time, authors of "Baby Bargains" parenting books have recommended switching to bisphenol-free bottles, identified by their opaqueness.

Such talk has prompted Maryland Delegate James W. Hubbard (D-Prince George's) to plan to revive in the state legislature a bill that would ban the sale of products meant for children under 6 that contain the chemical, including baby bottles. "This is the third year, and the third year is the charm," he said.

The issue is whether the chemical, used to make polycarbonate products, could leach out of baby bottles and harm young children. (Bottle nipples are not involved.) Bisphenol A, known as BPA, has been found to cause cancer and reproductive damage in some animals.

Still, the discussions are frustrating parents already nervous because of reports of safety problems with products from China, the source of 80 percent of toys bought in the United States. Millions of toys tainted with lead-based paint, including toy trains and Batman action figures, have been recalled.

"I'm so tired of yet another thing that we have to watch out for," said Bazarian, whose son is 9 months old. "It just infuriates me that first of all we are exposed to these chemicals. But secondly that we're trying so hard to do our best, and it's just one more thing that pops up that's out of our control."

Bazarian threw out her old bottles and ordered BPA-free plastic ones, expected to arrive any day.

"I'd rather be a little careful and pay a few extra dollars for some new bottles than have a potential harmful issue," she said.

Bazarian is not alone. Concern over BPA has spurred demand for alternatives to plastic bottles. Evenflo has had an increase in sales of glass bottles. Last week, Buy Buy Baby launched a BPA-free section on its Web site.

At Born Free, which sells BPA-free bottles online and in stores, President Ron Vigdor said sales have jumped 75 to 100 percent over the past month.

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