Eastman Chemical may have come out ahead in the recent move by the Canadian government to label bisphenol-A, a chemical found in some forms of plastic, as toxic.
That is because the company already manufactures plastic without the noxious chemical, which could put its product in great demand. Last fall, the company rolled out its Eastman Tritan co-polyester product after about five years of research and development, said Tracy Kilgore, a communications specialist whose company is based in Kingsport, Tenn.
“We came up with the product while collaborating with our customers to come up with a more heat resistant product that could withstand many, many cycles in the dishwasher,’’ Kilgore said. “It was a nice coincidence that it was BPA free.’’
Eastman, the manufacturer of diverse plastics and fibers, already supplies to sports bottle makers such as CamelBak and Aladdin, which worked with the company to develop the plastic, Kilgore said. (Aladdin’s new BPA-free bottle is called the “Clean and Clever Water Bottle.“)
Nalgene another sports bottle maker that used to use BPA plastic in its clear, rigid water bottles, also now uses Eastman Tritan. Under public pressure to switch, the company issued a statement earlier this year that it was “confident” its previous polycarbonate bottles were safe, but that consumer demand for BPA-free bottles dictated a change to the new material.
Bisphenol-A, also known as BPA, is a hormone disruptor that can be found in almost everyone, according to the Environmental Working Group, a watchdog organization based in Washington, D.C. Some studies in animals have linked BPA to breast and prostate cancer, and infertility. In April, the National Toxicology Program raised concerns that exposure to BPA during pregnancy and childhood could impact the developing breast and prostate, accelerate puberty, and affect behavior in children.
BPA is used in polycarbonate plastic products such as reusable water bottles, including baby bottles, food can linings, water pipes and dental sealants. It became popular because it mimics glass in its transparency, but is resistant to breaking. Canada banned only infant bottles made with BPA.
In the United States, concerns have not yet reached the same fever pitch as in Canada. Still, 10 states and Congress are working on proposals to impose legislative bans on the chemical. And U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) announced plans to introduce legislation to ban BPA from all children’s products and “food contact’ consumer products such as water bottles. The legislation also would require a public health campaign for expecting mothers about the risks of using plastics containing BPA.
While switching to materials such as Eastman Tritan may be more expensive for companies, some bottle makers see it as a viable alternative to polycarbonate plastic.
“CamelBak’s success comes from delivering consumers innovative products,” the company’s CEO Sally McCoy said in a news release. “This ground-breaking polymer allows us to better meet the needs of our customers by giving them a BPA free choice in re-usable bottles.”
The makers of plastic water bottles are not the only companies seeking to provide consumers with alternatives to polycarbonate. Owens-Illinois, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of glass containers, recently began production of glass infant bottles after a 20-year hiatus, according to recent news reports. And SIGG, the maker of aluminum sports bottles, saw sales more than triple over that of the same period last year, according to reports.
Born Free, a baby bottle maker in Israel, relies on polyethersulfone instead of polycarbonate, but little is known about the supplier, according to some reports.
Playtex Infant Care last month announced plans to stop using BPA in its products and offered consumers a chance to immediately switch to BPA-free infant products, said Gary Cohen, vice president and general manager of Playtex, Energizer Personal Care Division. “We know recent news coverage has created significant confusion about the use of BPA in plastic baby products,’’ Cohen said.
Indeed, concerns over BPA have caused paroxysms of confusion among health-conscious consumers across the globe. Many do not know which plastic products to avoid, or which to use.
“I am having the hardest time eliminating plastic from my life (or at least from my kitchen, which is where I’m starting)…’’ one commenter wrote on a Web site in response to the problem.
Another wrote, “…What about the cheap plastic cooking utensils we use? Most of them are not marked so we don’t know what kind of plastic they are made of. I threw all of mine away and wood or silicone for my no stick plans that I occasionally use.’’
In trying to avoid products containing BPA, Amanda Hanley, the web communications coordinator for Environmental Working Group, urged everyone to take a deep breath.
“You have to take a top down approach to the problem and look at the things that will give you the greatest amount of exposure,’’ she said. “For most people that will be canned food.’’
BPA apparently migrates into canned food from the plastic epoxy lining. So, Hanley says consumers should restrict or reduce their consumption of canned goods, especially women who are breast-feeding or pregnant. In general, consumers should avoid canned products: soup, pasta, and liquid infant formula.
Only one manufacturer, according to EWG, uses non-BPA lining in some of their food cans. Eden organic beans are packed in lead-free tin covered cans in a process that costs the company about $300,000 more to produce, the group says. Eden’s tomato products, however, continue to be packaged in cans laced with BPA lining, the group says. For more information go to the EWG’s blog on BPA.
Consumers can also seek out foods in aseptic cardboard boxes, like many soups and broths found in natural food stores and conventional groceries, which are BPA-free, according to a BPA advisory published by Center for Science in the Public Interest.
Ironically, the solution to avoiding BPA in sodas is to buy plastic containers instead of canned soda. The cans are lined with the BPA epoxy, whereas the plastic bottles are generally made of a different plastic that’s non-toxic and also recyclable, according to the CSPI.
Instead of liquid baby formula, the EWG advises parents to consider powdered formulas packaged in non-steel cans. Also, select glass baby bottles or use specially marked plastics that do not leach BPA.
When it comes to determining which plastic to use, consumers should avoid any hard translucent plastic marked by the No. 7 (inside the triangle with the rotating arrows at the bottom of the product) because it is likely to be polycarbonate, according to Environmental Working Group. Polycarbonate leaches BPA, especially when heated. The advocacy group urges consumers to toss polycarbonate water bottles in favor of stainless steel.
Consumers can sort out their questions about Tupperware — which maintains that BPA is safe in its microwavable, heat-resistant products — at the company’s FAQ.
Hanley’s view is that consumers should not heat plastic in the microwave, but instead should use ceramic or glass.
“Our organization has been working for a while to push the issue of BPA to the forefront,’’ Hanley said. “We think that it should be banned. But we’re thrilled with the progress we’ve made recently. The National Toxicology Program came out and said it’s a risk and it’s something we should be paying attention to.’’
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