Shatterproof bottles a health risk for babies
Author: Tanya Farber (Cape Argus)
The Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) has appealed to the South African authorities to follow the lead of Canada and ban baby bottles that contain the potential health risk substance Bisphenol A.
Also known as BPA, it is a chemical that leaches out of polycarbonate – the substance from which the vast majority of baby bottles in South Africa are made, including “top brands” which are more expensive and marketed as being best for babies.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which took an opposing stance to Canada’s, concluded in August that the levels at which humans consume BPA were safe.
On 29 October, however, a scientific advisory board signed off a report – amid allegations of a conflict of interest – requesting the agency to reconsider its conclusion.
The board charged that the agency had ignored several studies and that it was premature to declare the chemical safe for human consumption.
Fidel Hadebe, acting spokesman for the national Department of Health, said: “South Africa closely monitors progress regarding BPA research done worldwide, and will take appropriate action if and when necessary, based on proper research and scientific substantiation.”
Dr Carl Albrecht, head of research at CANSA, has meanwhile asked the government to follow “the example of … Canada concerning the banning of polycarbonate baby bottles containing Bisphenol A”.
Although BPA is found in many objects used by people of all ages, Albrecht said children were most vulnerable to its effects because they consumed 10 times more than adults to each kilogram of body weight. They also had low concentrations of the drug-metabolising enzymes that could neutralise man-made chemicals such as BPA.
Baby bottles were also more likely to be exposed to heat – an event that causes high levels of leaching – as parents sterilise each bottle before use.
Because BPA was also an ingredient of epoxy resins used to coat metal in food cans, formula-fed babies faced an increased risk.
According to breast pump and bottle expert Jane Pitt, BPA is added to polycarbonate to make it more flexible.
Polycarbonate in its pure form was brittle and would crack if subjected to sudden extreme temperature changes, or shatter if dropped on to a hard surface.
With bottles that were old and scratched, the leaching of BPA was more severe, Pitt said.
Various international studies have found a variety of potential risks posed by Bisphenol A. In a British study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (Jama), it was found that such risks include heart disease, Type 2-diabetes and abnormalities in liver enzymes.
Studies have also found that BPA interferes with brain processes involved in learning and understanding, that it causes infertility and obesity in mice, and that it may reduce the effectiveness of chemotherapy treatments. Also, as a hormone disruptor, BPA could increase the risk of prostate and breast cancer, while also potentially bringing on early puberty in girls.
Finding BPA-free bottles in South Africa:
- Nuk, New Born Free and MAM all carry some BPA-free bottles in their range, but consumers must check the packaging as some of their bottles are not free of BPA.
- Dr Browns will launch BPA-free bottles soon, but to date do not carry BPA-free bottles here.
- Philips/Avent to date do not sell BPA-free bottles in South Africa but say they might in the future.
- All Medela bottles and breast pumps are BPA-free.
- It will usually state very clearly on the packaging if a bottle is BPA-free.
- Bottles made of polycarbonate contain BPA whereas those made of polypropylene do not. Polycarbonate bottles are typically clear or coloured and are inflexible.
- Consumers can also look for the three-sided triangular emblem with arrows on the bottom of a baby bottle. If a 7 appears, it is made of polycarbonate and therefore contains BPA.
- PC, which is the English shortening for polycarbonate, can also sometimes be seen on these products.