Parents can be forgiven for assuming that all the products lining the shelves of stores' nursery sections should be 100% child-safe. In recent years, however, that reassurance has been increasingly tested.
At the forefront of parental concerns is bisphenol-A (BPA), a ubiquitous chemical used to harden plastics, including those in baby bottles and in the lining of aluminum cans. When plastic is heated, such as in a dishwasher or microwave, traces of BPA can leach from bottles and move easily into the bloodstream. Animal studies have suggested that the chemical can mimic the hormone estrogen in the body, which could cause developmental changes in fetuses and infants. And one 2008 survey of BPA exposure in adults, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that it may be associated with higher rates of diabetes and cardiovascular disease in adults. But the chemical is everywhere and in everyone one survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 93% of Americans age 6 or older test positive for BPA and the balance of the evidence does not suggest that BPA is unsafe.
Under the Bush Administration, the FDA concluded in concordance with the chemical industry and the European Food Safety Authority that current levels of BPA exposure were harmless. But in October 2008, a panel commissioned by the FDA's science board found the agency's original assessment flawed saying that it excluded several important animal studies and did not incorporate enough infant-formula samples and a new safety review is expected by the end of summer 2009.
Last month, Chicago became the first city, and Minnesota the first state, to ban baby products that contain BPA Canada has also banned them and several retailers, like Wal-Mart, offer BPA-free options nationwide. For now, however, the FDA, along with its equivalent agencies in Europe, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, say that current levels of BPA exposure are too low to pose a risk to human health.