PLASTIC EXPOSURE IN INFANTS AND CHILDREN:
TO FEAR OR NOT TO FEAR?
This article is meant to educate you about the potential hazards associated with plastics. Here are two very simple changes that you can do now, use glass baby bottles and stainless steel sippy cups. This will help reduce your children’s exposure to harmful toxins.
It was coincidental that I was doing an article on the health risks associated with plastic this week. My mother, who is so sweet, enjoys baking treats for my son. She often makes him cupcakes and cookies and sends it over in an aluminum container that has a big plastic top. I had stored the containers in my oven weeks ago planning to give back to my mother. My husband caught fish this week and I turned on the oven to cook it, and within minutes our eyes were burning, and the smell was unbearable. The smell of melting plastic is horrific.
I know plastic is somewhat of a modern miracle. A few years ago when I discovered the association of plastic and hormone related cancers, thyroid issues and autoimmune diseases, I wanted to eliminate plastics from our life. Well, it is almost impossible. If you look around your house, you will find hundreds or thousands of items that are made of plastic; cell phones, toys, computers, car interiors, etc…. Plastic has become essential to modern life. Knowing that most of the toxic chemicals are leached when plastic is stressed or heated, I immediately did the following: I replaced my son’s sippy cup with stainless steel, we only use glass in the microwave, and I store all my warm leftovers in glass containers. Plastic should not be heated, even if it says microwave safe. Remember BPA was microwave safe.
A few decades ago when I noticed that cancer rates were escalating there was speculation about the microwave being the cause. In retrospect maybe the speculation was not that far fetched. The microwave is perhaps the catalyst to the increase in cancer by heating of plastic.
When I was a little girl, I remember everything being in glass containers. The ketchup was in a glass containers, baby bottles were glass, coca-cola came in a glass bottle (even when sold in the vending machines), the milkman delivered milk to our door in glass bottles and we cooked dinner every night, so there were no leftovers to store in plastic containers. I also remember the first time me and my friend saw water being sold at our local convenience store, and we laughed saying who would pay for a bottle of water when you can get it at home for free? I guess we were very wrong.
Four years ago I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy; he was 4 pounds, and I had a difficult time breastfeeding because of his size. I opted to pump for a full year and store my milk in plastic containers and freeze the milk. When it was time to eat, I would warm the milk in a bottle steamer. I was happy that I was providing my son with the best nutrition possible, but was unaware of the potential danger of heating plastic. After I had stopped pumping, I read a book titled “Detoxify or Die,” this is an informational book if you are interested in our daily exposure to toxins. It made me realize how vulnerable babies are to everything they are exposed to on a daily basis. Plastic bottles, household cleaning chemicals, air-fresheners, pesticides and arsenic in formula (unfortunately, most families don’t have the option to buy organic formula due to the price) and diapers which contain dioxins, sodium polyacrylate and dying agents. It was disturbing to me that I was unknowingly exposing son to so many toxins.
On July 2012, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the use of bisphenol A (BPA) in baby bottles and sippy cups. BPA is a carbon-based “synthetic” plastic, which has been used for many years as a microwave safe product. Other similar plastics have replaced BPA. One replacement for BPA is BPS, and there is some controversy about that chemical compound having similar health effects.
IT’S A PLASTIC WORLD:
Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical used in the manufacturing of polycarbonate (PC) plastics and epoxy resins, thermal paper production, and in the formation of polyvinyl chloride plastics. For those who do not know, PC plastics are used in certain food and drink packaging. Epoxy resins, on the other hand, are used in protective linings of cans, paints, flooring, and dental composites. Polycarbonate plastics are typically clear and hard, and are marked with the recycle symbol “7” or may contain the letters “PC” near the recycle symbol. In 2004, approximately 2.3 billion pounds of BPA was produced in the United States. Due to its massive production, it now belongs to the High Production Volume Chemicals.
WHY SHOULD WE BE CONCERNED?
The exposure BPA by the general population commonly occurs through ingestion of food in contact with materials containing bisphenol A. This chemical can migrate into food and beverage containers containing PC plastics or epoxy resin coatings. The degree of its migration from PC containers into the liquid is largely dependent on the temperature of the liquid, rather than the age of the container. Even plastics that are BPA-free have revealed estrogenic effects.
Regarding subjects with high exposure to BPA, it was found that the fetus, infants and young children up to three years of age are the most vulnerable and have high levels of plastics in their cells. The higher levels could be attributed to the fact that infants and children eat, drink, and breathe more than adults. They also spend more time on the floor and may engage in certain behaviors that can increase the potential for exposure.
DO YOU WANT PROOF?
The National Toxicology Program (NTP) Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction (CERHR) conducted an evaluation on the potential effects of bisphenol A especially on the reproduction and human development.
Studies conducted on laboratory rodents provide clear evidence for adverse effects from “high” dose exposure to BPA. These include:
- Reduced Survival
- Growth Restrictions
- Delayed Puberty in Female and Male rats
However, these effects are observed in doses that are far in excess of the highest intake of bisphenol A in humans, particularly in children (<0.0147-mg./kg. bw/day).
On the other hand, several findings on “low” dose exposure:
- Effects on Brain and Behavior
- Early onset of Puberty in Females
- Reproductive Issues in Male/Female
- Increase Risk of Prostate Cancer
- Increase Risk of Breast Cancer
- Precancerous Lesions of the Prostate and Mammary Glands
- Disrupts Ovarian Development
Despite collected data from these studies, several issues were considered by the NTP in evaluating the potential human risks. Questions were raised regarding the suitability of various experimental approaches and the relevance of the particular animal model in relation to human effects.
Exposures in human and laboratory animals are compared by estimating daily intake or blood levels of free bisphenol A. The conclusion of similarities between exposures is supported by multiple approaches. Because of this, the possibility that human development can be affected by BPA cannot be dismissed.
Based on the information gathered by the NTP, they concluded that the possible effects of exposure to BPA can be divided into several levels of concern:
- The NTP has some concern for effects on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and children at current human exposures to bisphenol A.
- The NTP has minimal concern for effects on the mammary gland and an earlier age for puberty for females in fetuses, infants, and children at current human exposures to bisphenol A.
- The NTP has negligible concern that exposure of pregnant women to bisphenol A will result in fetal or neonatal mortality, birth defects or reduced birth weight and growth in their offspring.
- The NTP has negligible concern that exposure to bisphenol A will cause reproductive effects in non-occupationally exposed adults and minimal concern for workers exposed to higher levels in occupational settings.
Currently, the FDA continues its review and research on the effects of BPA. Parents and caregivers can make a personal choice to reduce exposure of their infants and children to BPA. They are advised to take the following steps:
- Use BPA-free products or other alternatives
- Reduce the use of canned foods lined with BPA
- Avoid exposure of BPA-products to heat
- Avoid reusing single use plastic (e.g. Water bottles)
The FDA is supporting reasonable measures to reduce human exposure to BPA. They encourage the industry to stop producing BPA bottles and infant feeding cups for the U.S. markets. In addition to this, they also facilitate the development of several alternatives to BPA or the linings of infant formula cans. They do not recommend, however that families should change the use of infant formula or food since it benefits as a good source of nutrition outweighs the possible risks.
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