BPA and other chemicals to avoid
When it comes to products used for storing and serving food and drinks, parents are naturally on high alert to avoid exposing their children to potential health risks. Navigating through the long list of chemicals and plastics to avoid is not as daunting as it may first seem. Here is a guide to help you with the decisions.
From baby's first bottle, through to sippy cups, feeding plates, utensils, drink bottles and lunch boxes, children are at risk of ingesting chemicals that may leach from the plastic and metal materials.
There is no question that some substances can leach into food - the Australian National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS) confirms this.
However, two things make it difficult for parents to make safe choices:
- Companies are not required to disclose on the packaging what materials the item is made from. Sometimes there is a plastics recycling symbol and it is well known to avoid #7 (polycarbonate) and #3 (PVC).
- Scientists do not always agree on the risks and what levels of exposure are harmful. Nearly all chemicals are toxic in high doses, but it is hard to determine what levels of low exposure are harmful.
California Environmental Protection Agency toxicologist, Stephen Dizio (as reported on US National Public Radio in February 2009) said "There are 80,000 chemicals in commerce. We know something about the toxicity of only around 400 of them".
Chemicals to avoid
In recent years, several toxins have received a lot of attention and are subject to bans or regulations in some countries.
Phthalates - used to make plastic soft and flexible, found in products from teething rings to plastic wrap and soft lunch boxes.
Lead - can be found in soft vinyl lunchboxes, particularly the lining where it can easily come into contact with food.
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) - a well recognised toxic plastic that is dangerous to health and the environment in its production, use and disposal. Often labeled vinyl, it is used for lunch boxes, backpacks and ring binders.
Bishenol A (BPA) - used in the production of hard polyncarbonate plastics and synthetic resins. BPA is found in baby bottles, plastic tableware and the internal coating of tinned-food. While Canada and several US states have banned BPA in products for children under three, Food Standards Australia / New Zealand states "BPA does not pose a significant health risk."
How do I choose a trustworthy product?
Gather as much information as possible and purchase products from companies that provide full disclosure.
The packaging should state what materials it is made from, and that it is BPA-free, lead-free and so on. Their website should have more information about the manufacturing processes, quality control and independent tests.
There is a flood of cheap bottles on the market that provide no information like this. A good rule of thumb is the cheaper the product, the more potential for exposure to toxins because thorough quality control and reporting costs money.
When you consider that most materials (even stainless steel) can leach some substance into the food or liquid, you should have absolute faith in the quality of the manufacture and choose brands that will stay around to answer for their products.
Brands that meet these standards include: Klean Kanteen and Nathan stainless steel bottles, SIGG bottles, Green to Grow baby bottles, glass bottles like Weego, and Thermos Foogo storage containers. For an extensive assessment of whether brands are safe, visit The Zrecs Guide (www.zrecsguide.com).
Looking after your bottles
Better safe than sorry
While regulators are often reluctant to apply the "precautionary principle", as conscious consumers we should make cautious decisions every day. Where a chemical has the potential to cause harm to the environment or human health, precautionary measures should be taken even if no direct cause and effect relationship has been fully established scientifically.
That said, put the risks into perspective and never feel guilty for any choices you have made. We can only make the best choices available to us and nothing is more important than a loving and safe home for our children to flourish.