Did you know that when you drink or bottle-feed your baby from plastic bottles, dangerous chemicals which can have damaging effects on your health are being consumed? This also applies to other liquids served in plastic bottles or cans, and storing or heating food in plastic containers.
Here is why I don’t buy plastic-bottled beverages, and why instead I prefer to carry with me a glass water bottle, store foods at home in glass jars and avoid the use of plastics in the kitchen where possible.
Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical used to make the hard, clear plastic known as polycarbonate, and which is commonly used in making reusable water bottles, baby bottles and part of the epoxy resin lining inside tinned foods and soda cans. It has been used in production since around the 1960s.
Recent research shows this dangerous chemical leaches from the plastic container into the water or other liquid, which is then drunk by the consumer. Exposure to this chemical has been connected with breast and uterine cancer, impaired immune function, an increased risk of miscarriage, decreased testosterone levels, hampered reproductive development, obesity, heart disease, hyperactivity, diabetes and early onset of puberty, while babies and young children appear especially at risk.
A Harvard Medical School study using a test group of 77 people who drunk water from polycarbonate bottles every day for a week, saw a 69 per cent increase of BPA in their urine, reported the Science Daily in May 2009.
"We found that drinking cold liquids from polycarbonate bottles for just one week increased urinary BPA levels by more than two-thirds. If you heat those bottles, as is the case with baby bottles, we would expect the levels to be considerably higher. This would be of concern since infants may be particularly susceptible to BPA’s endocrine-disrupting potential," said Karin B. Michels, associate professor of epidemiology at HSPH and Harvard Medical School and senior author of the study.
That means that even after only several days, drinking from a plastic bottle considerably raises your exposure to this toxic compound! Unfortunately, for those folks who think they are doing the environment a favour by reusing their water bottles for several weeks or months, are in fact simultaneously doing a huge disfavour to their own bodies and health.
Here is an excerpt from a report published this year conducted by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) entitled Update on Bisphenol A for Use in Food Contact Applications: January 2010 .
“Studies employing standardized toxicity tests have thus far supported the safety of current low levels of human exposure to BPA. However, on the basis of results from recent studies using novel approaches to test for subtle effects, both the National Toxicology Program at the National Institutes of Health and FDA have some concern about the potential effects of BPA on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and young children.”
Unfortunately, the ones among us that can potentially suffer the most harm from BPA are nursing infants. Of course, there are infinite reasons why breastfeeding babies is better for a baby’s long term health and development – but that’s another story – but for those who do bottle-feed their baby with polycarbonate bottles, the results of a specific study are particularly alarming.
In the report Toxic Baby Bottles – Scientific study finds leaching chemicals in clear plastic baby bottles, the Environment California Research and Policy Centre (ECRPC) stated:
“In this report, we analyze the extent to which five popular brands of baby bottles leach bisphenol A – a developmental, neural, and reproductive toxicant – into liquids coming into contact with them.
“We found that all five brands leach bisphenol A at dangerous levels found to cause harm in numerous laboratory animal studies.”
All five major brands tested by the ECRPC leached dangerous levels of BPA into the milk being fed to infants!
Thankfully, now that such studies are becoming more widespread and entering the public realm, some actions are being taken. For example, the FDA is taking steps to reduce human exposure to BPA in the American food supply by supporting industry action to stop producing BPA-containing baby bottles and infant feeding cups, supporting the development of alternatives to BPA for the lining of infant formula cans, and supporting efforts to replace or minimise BPA in other food can linings.
While these are positive signs, the fact is that such policy or industry changes can take a long time to come into effect, and meanwhile BPA-leaching plastics continue to be manufactured by the truckload in countries all around the world!
When BPA is heated or in contact with acidic content
Not only is it bad enough there is such a harmful compound being used in so many everyday consumer products – as well as in many reusable food containers, but what is even worse is that the amount of BPA being leached is increased when the plastic is heated or comes in contact with acidic liquids.
For example, leaving a water bottle in the sun or in a hot car, heating infant formula in the bottle, washing the bottle in hot water (especially in a dishwasher), serving hot liquids such as soup, coffee or tea in polycarbonate cups, and storing acidic liquids like orange, lemon, grapefruit or tomato juice, fizzy carbonated drinks, and especially vinegar in plastic bottles.
Food in plastic containers should never be microwave-heated as this leaches chemicals into the hot food, and even acidic content being stored in plastic containers or tin cans at room temperature or in the fridge should be avoided, such as canned tomatoes.
Here are my recommendations on how you can help reduce your exposure to bisphenol A (BPA):
- Use a glass water bottle – Although they are heavier than their plastic counterparts, drinking out of a glass bottle when you’re on the go makes a huge difference. Many premium fruit juices and especially those bought from an organic store are served in glass bottles that can be reused. A 200ml bottle is the perfect size for my handbag and although it doesn’t hold much, I can top it up throughout the day. For longer trips when I carry a backpack, I use a 500ml bottle.
- Use glass baby bottles – These can be hard to find, but you owe it to your baby. If your local baby supplies store doesn’t keep them in stock, search on Ebay or for other online stores in your country that do.
- Don’t drink from soda cans – They only contain rubbish anyway. Apart from exposing yourself to BPA, they’re loaded with a chemical cocktail of artificial sweeteners (which are even worse than sugar e.g. Aspartame), preservatives, colourings and flavour enhancers.
Buy fresh vegetables and fruit instead of canned – Not only are they BPA-free, but they contain far more vitamins and minerals than the canned versions.
Buy vinegar or tomato products in glass bottles/jars – With their high acidity levels, vinegar and tomatoes encourage further leaching of BPA from plastic bottles or cans. It surprises me that even some organic brands of vinegar are still sold in plastic bottles.
Buy oils, sauces and other liquids in glass bottles – If they don’t come in a glass bottle, refill a reusable glass bottle (see below).
- Reuse glass bottles and jars – I wash and reuse many of my glass bottles and jars so that I have a steady supply at hand. Larger jars from olives, pickles and the old ones our grandparents used to preserve fruit in, are especially useful. A bottle brush is a good cheap investment for cleaning bottles.
- Store foods and liquids in glass or in normal crockery – I store as much of my food as possible in recycled glass jars instead of plastic food containers, e.g. nuts, dried fruit, herbs, spices, flours, oats and tea, and even leftovers in the fridge, to minimise the exposure and contact between my food and harmful plastics.
A note on glass
Glass is easier to clean, does not contain or store harmful toxins or bacteria, and does not give food or drinks a ‘plastic’ taste.