Glass baby bottles making comeback
Stores selling out after health alarms raised about plastics
Monday, April 9, 2007
Glass baby bottles, replaced decades ago by unbreakable plastic, are making such a comeback that parents can't get their hands on them.
Online and brick-and-mortar retailers report a run on glass baby bottles in recent weeks that they say was spurred by reports that the most common type of plastic in baby bottles may leach a toxic chemical.
San Francisco resident Sean Mullins said he decided to switch his 6-month-old son, Mickey, from plastic to glass bottles last month despite manufacturers' insistence that plastic bottles are safe.
"You want to avoid anything that could be a health risk to a baby," Mullins said. "You try to give them the best start."
But after searching stores in the Bay Area and Lake County, checking Web sites and being outbid on eBay, "we could not find them anywhere." A friend finally found some glass bottles after searching online for more than two hours, but they were back-ordered and aren't expected to be shipped until late this week.
Independent tests done for The Chronicle and reported in November found bisphenol A, a chemical that mimics estrogen, in a baby bottle and several toys. Bisphenol A is also found in the lining of food cans, some anti-cavity sealants for teeth, and electronics.
Then, in late February, Environment California, an advocacy group, released a report titled "Toxic Baby Bottles" that drew intense national media coverage.
When heated, five of the most popular brands of polycarbonate -- the clear, shatterproof plastic used in baby bottles -- leached bisphenol A at levels that have been found to cause harm in laboratory animals, Environment California found.
Even at low levels, bisphenol A has been linked to abnormalities in the mammary and prostate glands and the eggs of laboratory animals, scientists say. Animal tests also show bisphenol A can speed up puberty and add to weight gain, and may cause changes that can lead to breast and prostate cancer.
"Parents are so concerned," said Dan Jacobson, Environment California's legislative director. Jacobson said the baby bottle report prompted more calls and e-mails, from all over the country, than any other study the organization has issued.
"When parents get ready to have a kid, they put plastic covers on the outlets, they test their walls for lead paint, they get the right kind of crib," Jacobson said. "Then you find out the baby bottle, of all things, is a problem."
Makers of polycarbonate bottles and industry representatives say parents have been alarmed unnecessarily about a product that meets federal standards and has been in widespread use for more than 25 years. And some questioned using glass bottles.
"I think parents are arguably being misled into buying products that may not be as safe," said Steve Hentges, a spokesman for the American Chemistry Council, which represents manufacturers of bisphenol A -- sometimes known as BPA -- and other chemicals.
It's irrefutable that glass can shatter, Hentges said. But there is "no scientific basis to conclude that BPA is something to be concerned about ... at the extremely low levels that people might be exposed to from use of consumer products."
That didn't stop San Francisco from approving a ban on children's products containing bisphenol A and certain phthalates, the chemicals that soften polyvinyl chloride, or PVC. Animal studies also have shown that phthalates interfere with sex hormones.
Manufacturers and retailers have sued the city over the ban, which has yet to be implemented. The Board of Supervisors will consider amendments to the ordinance Tuesday, including repealing the ban on bisphenol A, pending action by the state, which is considering similar legislation.
Many parents say they're not taking any chances.
After reading The Chronicle's November story about bisphenol A and phthalates, David Lippman of Berkeley switched his 16-month-old daughter, Lucina, to glass bottles and sippy cups made of softer, opaque plastic, which some environmental health advocates are promoting as a safer alternative to polycarbonate.
"She's going to be exposed to enough plastics in the world that I can't be so obsessed about it," Lippman said. But "it was something small I could do in my own home."
The Web site naturalbabyhome.com reported at least a tenfold increase in sales of glass bottles last month, which it attributed to the Environment California report. The company eventually ran out.
Jen Thames, general manager of Natural Baby in North Canton, Ohio, said that small company received 300 orders for glass bottles the day the report was released, some from frantic parents who wanted overnight shipping. The company, which has been selling glass bottles for 10 years, saw its monthly sales of popular 4-ounce glass Evenflo bottles increase from an average of 60 a month to 600 last month. Sales of 8-ounce glass bottles jumped from 100 to 1,300.
Evenflo, which makes the glass bottles most commonly found in stores and online, acknowledged an increase in demand, but representatives declined to comment further. The Ohio manufacturer says the polycarbonate bottles it also makes are safe.
Monica Meneses, manager of Baby World on College Avenue in Oakland, said last week that she was out of glass bottles. Some Bay Area Babies "R" Us stores, including those in Emeryville, Union City and Redwood City, also were out of stock.
Tasha Bullard of Elk Grove (Sacramento County) last month switched to polyethylene bottle liners, also promoted as a safer plastic, to feed her six-month-old son, Mason -- the day after she heard media reports on the possible dangers of plastic bottles.
"I typically don't react to these things," she said. "There are 9 million things that are bad for you. You try to temper everything with common sense."
But "this isn't something I want to take a chance on when it comes to my child's well-being."
For information on possible risks and alternatives to plastics for children:
Environment California report: links.sfgate.com/ZCM
EWG report on bisphenol A: www.ewg.org/reports/bisphenola/consumertips.php
For information from plastics manufacturers: