Like many moms, Kimberly Lisack is scrupulous about what her baby eats.
"I get concerned looking at packaged baby foods," said the Alexandria, Va., mom. "It's a lot of chemicals and things [that] I don't know what they are."
But she's never given much thought to the chemicals in her baby's bottles. That may change.
A report published online last week by the journal Reproductive Toxicology warned that a chemical used to make a wide variety of plastic goods, including most baby bottles, may not be safe. It's called bisphenol-A, or BPA.
Tests involving lab rats and mice have shown that even small amounts of exposure to BPA can lead to a range of serious ailments, says professor Frederick vom Saal, a biologist at the University of Missouri who authored the report.
"Very low doses [of BPA] — below the amounts that are present in humans — when, particularly, exposure occurs in fetuses and newborns, you end up with those babies eventually developing prostate cancer, breast cancer. They become hyperactive. They show learning impairment. It's a poster chemical for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder," vom Saal said.
The American Chemistry Council denied last week's report, saying in a statement that it was "distinctly at odds with the findings of other comprehensive evaluations of the safety of bisphenol-A, in which government and scientific bodies worldwide examined the same scientific information. All of these evaluations support the conclusion that bisphenol-A is not a risk to human health at the extremely low levels to which consumers might be exposed."
Another comprehensive evaluation of BPA studies is expected to be released next week by a federally funded panel. But that panel has been dogged by controversy since the contractor originally tasked with producing the report was fired after it was revealed to have ties to the industry.
A Wide Variety of Products
BPA can be found in everything from baby bottles to water cooler jugs. It is in bicycle helmets, CDs and the lining inside tin cans.
And it's in most of us: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found BPA in the urine of 95 percent of people it tested.
In the last two years, state lawmakers in California, Maryland and Minnesota have tried to ban BPA, without success.
California Assemblywoman Fiona Ma introduced a bill to ban BPA and although that provision was eventually removed, she hopes to bring it back.
"I think it's a very serious chemical," she said. "The science is in."
Meanwhile, the market for products made without BPA — particularly bottles and other products for babies — is growing.
Last month, Mom's Organic Market in Alexandria started selling Born Free baby bottles made from a plastic that does not contain BPA. They are more expensive than regular bottles, at nearly $20 for a pair, but the store manager says they are moving off the shelves at a brisk pace.