My next post will return us to a quiet, beautiful place, I promise. I even have one in mind...But for now....

I'm not anti-chemicals, not by a long shot. They've saved my life. I just want to feel safe about what we're using everyday. I haven't wanted BPA in my life since I began reading about what was wrong with it. It is banned in Canada. I began writing about all this for EDF in November 2010.

Here's how yesterday's op ed in the New York Times came about:

A few months ago, I started wondering what exactly was in all those new BPA-free plastics that are being marketed by green and chartreuse (a bit more timid, more yellow in the mix) companies? Why are they safer? And if an alternative plastic hardener was found so quickly, why wasn't everyone switching to it?

Figuring I would be a conscientious consumer, on behalf of my beloved friends who are new mothers, I decided to do some investigating.

I went online and began ferreting out information. I read about how the BPA industry was fighting back. I read a fascinating paper about how and why children are more vulnerable than adults to toxic chemicals. I read about the "toxic womb"--scary--a new database of prenatal exposure research.

I began to notice mention of BPA substitutes, like BPS. And BPF and BPAF. And I noticed that EPA hadn't yet approved the BPA substitutes in thermal papers--still stuyding. I found charts on plastic versus glass bottles. Many of the new BPA-free bottles are PES plastics---made with BPS. What do we know about all these other bisphenols floating around? 

My questions quickly led me into highly technical information. 

That's when I called my go-to science pal, Richard Denison, at Environmental Defense Fund. He is one of my environmental heroes because of his excellent work on covering the industry, and its regulations. He writes a blog called Chemicals and Nanomaterials. It is a must-read--and it is written in clear, accessible language--for anyone interested in the subject. And all of us should be. Denison put out a call to several of his own sources. He also sent me to Dr. Ted Schettler, the Science Director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, who was enormously helpful. Schettler sent me some comparative studies of bisphenol family members.

All this research took weeks and weeks. And I barely scratched the surface. I could see how difficult it would be for a new parent to figure this stuff out on her or his own. Who has time? You have to be a scientist--or know scientists--to understand what you are reading.

This isn't right. Our chemical manufacturing system is upside down. We should be able to trust that if a chemical is out there, it has been tested, and shown to be safe for human use. Now, it is release first, test later.

Everyone will make his or her own decision about how much risk they want to take with stuff in their lives. Some of us will be more cautious (that would be me) and some will feel comfortable ignoring this preliminary data.

I don't want to be a guinea pig any longer.

Go to Not a Guinea Pig to learn much more, and learn more.


VL said...

I realize I'm taking up comment-space instead of posting on my own blog (who knew that writing could be a distraction from writing?), but I have to say this:

The problem is that science is designed for neither quickness or certainty. You'll notice that scientists STILL talk about climate change in terms like "it is highly likely that the severe weather patterns are due, at least in part, to human influence". People don't realize that that's how scientists talk when they're virtually certain of something -- otherwise, it's "X may, in part, at times, be a mechanism that may influence Y, but more studies need to be done."

It's always More Studies Need to Be Done.

Drawing a conclusion from a controlled study, which of necessity is tightly constrained in various ways and usually involves a small population, over a very limited amount of time, which itself will respond along some sort of curve, we are unlikely to arrive at bedrock certainty. Yet when market forces are in play (as in selling new chemicals or drugs) we are equally unlikely to see sufficient caution, because it may take years and years before the effects of some new molecule, or treatment, or device is quantifiable. And if something cannot be proven safe, neither can it be proven toxic with bedrock certainty. Perhaps because the effect must be cumulative, perhaps because the effect is expressed only under certain conditions (e.g., aging, or exposure to molecule #2 or some such).

In short, I think the approach of testing first, marketing later is not going to go over well because corporations have a profit drive. In fact, that is a big problem right now driving the severe shortages of many pharmaceutical drugs doctors and hospitals across the country are facing now -- yes, we are in a drug shortage! -- drug companies are not motivated to manufacture generic drugs in sufficient quantities for the increasing numbers of sick people because they don't make as much money from them. Oncologists are having a particularly hard time. (I've been researching this for a few weeks and will put up a post this week, I hope, explaining what's going on.)

We have to get away from the almighty market being the governing concern, and we have to just fess up to the fact that there's no better substance than inert glass for food containers, and that individually-sized everything just promotes a cycle of waste. We have to somehow look at the big picture, and realize it is a way of life that is underlying these kinds of problems.

Anonymous said...

Yes VL, I suppose your right about glass being the safest container. But I would hate to hoist heavy glass gallon jugs for milk and juice and sport drinks ect. I still vividly remember dropping a gallon glass jug juice when I was younger...glass and orange juice everywhere, not to mention the wild look in my mothers eyes...as she had just waxed (by hand)the kitchen floor! So glass is not really practical.

Tara said...

I really appreciated yesterday's Op-Ed piece and appreciate the research behind it, and because of it, have pulled all the plastics from my toddler son's dishes (I think kids can learn to be careful with dishes anyway - especially when my mother saved all my childhood china).

But I admit, I was dismayed (enough to shoot off a letter to the editor I admit) once again by the culture assumption that babies equal bottles. Yes, parents should switch to glass, but wouldn't the safest alternative be to breastfeed the baby? Not that breastfed babies are exempt from plastic use since mothers go back to work and store their milk in plastic bags and containers (and I don't know that storing milk in glass containers in the freezer is practical), which only underscores your point that we need to reverse the process and test first and we need sweeping reform.

Only 13% of babies are still breastfed at the end of six months, which means 87% do require bottles - and the formula cans, packaging and promotions that end up in landfills. Meanwhile, breastfed babies are more likely to go straight from breast to cup and skip sippy cups altogether.

Given that breastfeeding benefits not just the health of the baby, but the health of the environment and the health of the health care system (breastfed babies require fewer doctor and Emergency room visits), doesn't it make sense to offer the most simple of solutions in addition to glass bottles and asking corporations to change?

Dominique said...

Several points: Yes, bottles break. That is why people should not give their toddlers bottles to walk around with--that is the beginning of trouble on the eating habits front--whether they're walking around with plastic or bottles hanging from their mouths.

Second, yes, breastfeeding is great. One of the joys of my life. I will not go into this in detail for fear of sending Warren into a coma of embarrassment. To say nothing of my own sons.

Breastfeeding is the way we were meant to go. Unfortunately, though, there are times when the mother cannot produce enough, or has to go to work, and therefore pumps, and all sorts of other situations. I'm also not big on toddlers walking up to mom unbuttoning her shirt and demanding lunch. Which I have watched. Bottles do come into the picture eventually.

I love the glass milk bottles. Sometimes things break. So what? I think I have the same memory, the newly waxed (remember that?) floor and the crashing glass. We lived.

{I think people don't use their "good" china for the same reason. It could break. I say, that's fine. Use it. Replace it. Or move on.}

I am going straight to VL to read more of what she is discussing.

david terry said...

I recently heard a fascinating and very informative interview with Susan Freinkel, the author of the just-published "Plastic: A Toxic Love Story", on "Fresh Air"

the book's now available (I've just ordered it), and the interview (how many times can Terry Gross say "gosh...I never thought of that..." in a single interview?) can be heard at:

Our 'Toxic' Love-Hate Relationship With Plastics : NPR



Once again, a fascinating interview with a very smart and surprisingly funny woman.

----david terry

Anonymous said...

You hit the nail on the head when you said "who has the time", young parents are so stressed out many working 2 jobs just meet the monthly mortgage payment. From what I see and hear, they are trying to do right by their children...many spending double the amount for hormone free milk for their girls (another topic for Dominique to explore).They are conscientious enough to buy BPA free sippy cups and bottles.
Its why having advocates like VL and Tara and Dominique are so important in trying to crack down on these big corporations. I agree with glass being safer, but I'm afraid you won't ever see mass marketed glass again. Plastics are here to stay...we just have to work hard to get them safer.

karenleslie said...

i've been using the new water bottles made of glass encased in rubber to prevent breakage. i much prefer drinking water out of glass than SS or plastic and end up drinking more water throughout the day because of it. maybe a similar concept will be developed for babies and kids sippy cups...

CHC said...

I love glass bottles - hate the "feel" of the plastic.

But better yet, a change of subject - Bald Eagles - have been watching this eaglecam for weeks -
a wonderful family!



david terry said...

Dear "CHC",

Please try to restrain yourself.


There is a very good reason God has already sent me and my digressive ways to Ms. Browning's blog.

Personally, I think that I'm already doing a very fine job of regularly hijacking her threads and jerking them off into tangential, self-involved waters.

So...please.....stay on topic.

the lady obviously has a great deal of patience....but I doubt that even she could stand TWO of our sort.

Advisedly yours as ever,

Rev. Dr. David Terry
P.S. you're right about bald eagles. they're fascinating. Still...and oddly enough, there are twelve or so nesting about ten miles from my house, here in the muddy middle of North Carolina. I raise small, white terriers and am beginning to question the advisability of letting the puppies run around, unattended, in the back garden.

david terry said...

P.S. (to "CHC")....

given my continued refusal to begin using "smiley-face" emoticons, I suppose I should emphasize that I was joking.

I'm, actually, the one who, if I were listening to a lecture on Physics by Stephen Hawking or a seminar on foreign Policy by Hilary Clinton, would raise my hand and say "That's so funny....that reminds me of something my great-uncle said about Geraniums in 1967....."

In any case, I was joking and just thought I ought to make that clear.

----david terry

Anonymous said...

What a great idea...the glass protected by rubber, yes, that is a super idea for baby bottle and sippy cups! So just the fact that these are now available for water bottles shows that someone is trying to make a difference!

Dominique said...

glass sippy cup: http://www.theglassbabybottle.com/mm5/merchant.mvc?Screen=PROD&Product_Code=EIO-CUPORANGE
and let's NOT stay on topic!

Anonymous said...

Another great option is lifefactory. I use the baby bottles for my son and the glass beverage bottles for my water. The silicone sleeve takes the worry out of carrying glass.

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