Natural Moms Podcast #80

April 21, 2008

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This week on the show, I spoke with Jeremiah McNichols of ZRECS . Jeremiah and his wife Jennifer are bloggers and parents of a 3 year old daughter. Their website offers the “BPA Mobile Project” to consumers for free – all it costs is whatever your texts cost you based on your cell phone plan. Z Recommends foots the bill for the service!

bpa free bottles The problem with trying to find out which products are BPA free on your own is that the information from the companies is not always clear or easy to obtain. ZRECS provides a valid source of info about what products contain BPA.

If you want to know what companies you can trust, their text messaging service instantly educates parents and guides you to BPA free product choices. To use the service, simply text zrecs and the company name to 69866.

If you’re unfamiliar with BPA, here’s the scoop. BPA (Bisphenol A) is an ingredient of many common plastics – plastics used to make bottles, milk containers, and water bottles. It’s also used for the lining of food and drink cans, styrofoam and PVC products. The problem with it is that it’s a hormone mimic that upsets natural hormone levels and causes genetic damage and miscarriages in lab rats. BPA leaches from plastic bottles into the food or drink inside. Researchers have known since the 30’s that BPA mimicked estrogen!

(Reference: Organic Housekeeping )

More on BPA: BPA in Baby Bottles – what’s the danger?

Foogo BPA Free Sippy Cup Review

Below is a transcription of a portion of this interview:

Carrie: We’re going to talk about BPA, which is something that parents are coming aware of and why it’s a concern. And your website has a really cool feature for parents. First, for those listening who don’t know what BPA is and why we should be knowledgeable and educated about it, tell us what it is.

Jeremiah: BPA stands for bisphenol-A, which is used in polycarbonate plastics, which are really commonly used in plastic baby bottles, and some sippy cups, other feeding items, pacifier shields and some other baby products, as well as water bottles for adults. Nalgene bottles and the 5 gallon waters used in water coolers, as well as producing epoxy lining in metal cans and lids of jarred baby food. So it’s pretty widespread in terms of products that come into contact with foods. It’s also – a growing source of concern among scientists who are concerned about our exposure to it, and especially the levels of exposure infants have through baby bottles and feeding items, obviously because they’re very small, they’re developing. A small dose of BPA has been found to leach from plastic in the polycarbonate bottles when the bottle is heated potentially supplants their hormonal system, endocrine system, and can have some adverse health effects.

C: That was new to me about the lining on baby food jars and cans, I did not know that.

J: Cans like canned soup, that adults consume but also unfortunately – like Gerber baby food jars lids have epoxy on them, and it’s there for a purpose – to prevent botulism. It prevents the metal from coming into contact with food, but it does contain BPA and there have been studies that show how much of that leaches into the food when it’s sitting on the shelf for months before it’s consumed.

C: That’s another reason for parents to consider making their own homemade baby food.

J: One of many. We’ve always thought that’s a great idea.

C: I always thought it was just because I was lazy! And cheap. And I didn’t want to buy it, but I never did the jarred baby food thing. So other than being a concerned parent, what’s your background in this topic and your interest in this?

J: We have a review blog where we have tried to be environmentally and safety conscious in reviewing products for children and for parents, so we tend to take an interest in issues like this. BPA came onto our radar a year ago and we started researching it, and as we were reviewing products, we realized this was something we wanted to incorporate into our reviews, so we started contacting companies to find out which of there – for example sippy cups – our daughter was 2 ½ at the time and using sippy cups and we wanted to review them, and we wanted to focus on ones that were BPA free.

And as we contacted companies we were struck by a few things, one of which was that the information that you got from these companies wasn’t always clear, wasn’t always complete, there was actually still at that time, a lot of hostility on the part of some of the bigger companies to even share this information, and even some bullying tactics that they would use to try to get you to back off.

We also realized that a lot of other parents would probably be going through the same thing, and we came to the point where we could provide a validated source of information that we collected from these companies in a systematic way about what products contain BPA from each of these companies and even assess where the company stands, what their position is on it, so parents know what companies they can trust if they’re interested in avoiding this chemical then it could be a great resource for parents.

C: Absolutely. And so to that end you have a really neat, clever idea. How did you ever come up with this?

J: The text messaging?

C: Yes explain how that works.

J: My blogging partner is my wife Jennifer, and she had the idea. She saw the company that we partnered with to do this called mobile commons, they had recently produced a similar service to track or advise consumers about the mercury levels in different kinds of fish. And they called it the fish phone or something, and you text to a short code number, a 5 digit number, a certain call word fish or something, and then the name of the species of fish or type of fish – salmon or whatever. And you would get a text back that told you whether the organization who set up the database recommended that type of fish based on the mercury content. Some fish hold it in their meat more than others. And so people at the grocery store could find out which kind of fish was best to buy if they’re concerned about mercury levels.

And she sort of sat on that and thought, gee that’s kind of cool. And a few days later, started talking about how we could do this with BPA. Once we thought of that we really wanted to make it happen because we’ve tried to put this information in the hands of parents in the most accessible way possible, and yet there’s so much of it, there’s so much information out there.

We thought about doing cheat sheet sort of things, downloads, but we’ve seen those circulate once they’re published, long after their real expiration date should be. Just the nature of that format. And we wanted to make sure that people also had really up to date information, the best information we could provide. So one of the things we liked about this text messaging idea was that when people call in, they’re getting the most current results from our database that we can provide them. All we do to update them is to change the information in the database, and the next caller gets the updated information. And it’s also very handy. You always have your cell phone with you, if you can remember this short code and how to do it, to text in, you don’t have to carry around a piece of paper with you and make sure you have it at the right store.

We had a lot of parents who wrote to us immediately after launching it instantly recognizing the value of the idea, which is not something we always get. We often have to do a lot of explaining. It’s sort of an idea that very quickly has registered with people who want this information because if they’re at all possible with text messaging they’re typically really excited to be able to do that and not have to try to memorize or write down all the brands they want to look at.

It’s especially useful for parents who are sort of loyal to a particular brand or who aren’t committed to in principle of the idea of only going with a company that only provides BPA free products. If they want to work with a company like Nuby or Avent or one of those companies that has a huge product line, very confusing product names, and their policies are always changing, and they say that BPA is safe, they can text in for information about for example Nuby bottles and we’ll tell them which ones contain BOA and which ones don’t. So if they want to buy from a company like that they can get the specific item by item information so they know which items are safe.

C: Well as a mom who is typically shopping with up to 4 children, I can say that that’s a great thing because if you’re standing there in the store and you’re distracted by your kids and you’re overwhelmed by all the choices, and you’re trying to remember something.. or as you said, remember to put the piece of paper in your purse with the product list that you’ve checked out are ok.. making sure that all that stuff happens is a lot. So I think it’s just really clever, great idea.

So other than BPA… several years ago it was phtalates that we were hearing about and parents were concerned about their baby’s chew toy and products that contained phtalates and that has kind of calmed down. And most toy companies have banned the use of phtalates… but what other chemicals in addition to BPA should parents be concerned about?

J: There are a lot that are sort of under the radar at this point. I wouldn’t say you should definitely avoid, but some people have questions about them, and as a parent you really want to avoid potentially harmful chemicals. Like melamine, which is another chemical used to make a hard form of plastic, it’s in a lot of dishes and stuff. If we’re specifically talking about food contact items, that would be one of the main things.

But phtalates are still really an issue – they have been banned in toys largely but there’s a lot more light being shed on their presence in baby care products like lotions and diaper creams and things like that. The Environmental Working Group has a great safe products database. And they’re also looking increasingly at things like baby shampoos, lotions. Basically phtalates are used in a lot of those products, they’re a stabilizer, fragrance component… but they may also be used for other reasons as well. And there aren’t really strict labeling requirements for them.

(Note: Earth Mama Angel Baby products are BPA free.)

So if you see something that has fragrance on the ingredients list, that could include phtalates. And those are in a shampoo, you’re basically applying the phtalates directly to the scalp. And there may be other waves of serious attention given to phtalates in those kinds of products. Beyond that, we’ve spoken with a lot of industry people who say at some point other plastics might come under greater scrutiny.

BPA is really a hot topic right now. It’s a chemical that’s gotten a lot of scientific research being generated now behind it. But it’s not the only plastic that has some chemicals in it that have some estrogenic properties, so it may come down to increasing sensitivity of studies revealing smaller and smaller amounts of estrogenic activity. At some point there’s going to have to be a broader public debate about how much is okay that’s already existing outside the FDA, because the FDA has been very slow to act and review their own findings, which were fairly suspect to begin with. Other countries are sort of taking the lead on this away from the US, we’re more likely to see reform in Canada or in the European Union before we do in the United States. But that’s going to have to become a topic of conversation soon, is a lower level of estrogenic activity from a different type of plastic a concern as well, or do we cut the threshold at what BPA is doing?

Just as another aside, the hard form of polyethylene, polyethylene teraphtalates, plastic #1 – it’s your disposable Coke bottles and other hard clear plastics not as durable as polycarbonates. Some people are concerned about what might be leaching from that plastic. So if polycarbonate gets out of the system and becomes taboo, researchers might turn to that as the next plastic to look at closely.

So a lot of these companies are looking not just to avoid polycarbonate – the most conscientious companies thinkbaby, green to grow, born free are saying what’s the absolute safest plastic we can use. And right now that’s polyamide, which is a relatively new form of plastic and has very low estrogenic activity. And currently there’s research going on to develop even safer plastics that we might see in 5 years or more, that would pretty quickly be adopted by the industry.

So BPA may be laying the groundwork for this larger conversation about estrogen and hormone disruptors so it may be the tip of the iceberg in that sense. But we tend to recommend things for parents in a precautionary principle where we say some scientists say this is a potential concern and there are safer alternatives, and that’s the real world. You use the safest stuff you can find.

C: Hopefully it will open up a bigger conversation because it’s a difficult choice. For instance for breastfeeding mothers who have to pump and give their baby a bottle – they have to make the choice between a plastic bottle and a glass bottle and both have some disadvantages. Glass may seem like the perfect container but when it comes to breastmilk, the fact that some of the fats cling to the glass is not a good thing. So you have to weigh some of those different factors but it’s definitely good to see some progress as far as these companies wanting to look for alternatives.

J: It’s interesting the way it’s developed because a lot of this research around BPA has been around since the 1980’s and it’s only been in the last 6 to 8 years that the heavyweight scientists have come to weigh in and put a public face on this issue. And it’s only been in the last couple years that we’ve had this critical mass of consumers that are really the source of a lot of the change that’s occurring in the marketplace. All these new companies that have sprung up saw an opportunity and a customer base demanding better products. I think with BPA we’ve really reached a critical mass where even the most resistant companies are being dragged along and will reform their plastic usage.

C: That’s capitalism doing its thing.

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7 Responses to “Natural Moms Podcast #80”

  1. BPA Free Products | Natural Moms Talk Radio on May 5th, 2008 10:11 am

    [...] McNichols of ZRECS (remember when he was on the show talking about BPA?) emailed me letting me know that you might want to be careful if you’re searching Amazon for [...]

  2. Earth Mama Angel Baby® is BPA Free | Natural Moms Talk Radio on May 9th, 2008 9:34 pm

    [...] release from Earth Mama Angel Baby and was very impressed with their determination to only use BPA free packaging for their products. Earth Mama Angel Baby products are also organic and paraben [...]

  3. Carol Spittles on September 10th, 2008 9:56 am

    Can we simply go by the numbers in triangle at bottom of item? I understand all numbers BUT not #7 are free of Bisphenol A. Is that correct? I have some children’s dishes that have #5 on bottom, would they be B A free? Great article you have!

  4. Work at Home Mom Amy Sharp of Little Aloutte Wooden Toys | Natural Moms Talk Radio on October 21st, 2008 10:21 pm

    [...] we branched out into maple teethers for our second son after becoming more and more informed of the dangers of BPA and such. I just started an etsy shop thinking we would just sell blocks and then it organically [...]

  5. BPA, FDA, MSNBC and Me | Natural Moms Talk Radio on October 29th, 2008 9:17 pm

    [...] Interview with Jeremiah McNichols of ZRECS (In addition to sharing the problems with BPA, Jeremiah offers a free text messaging service for parents who want to find BPA free products. The interview and transcript appear here.) [...]

  6. Gregory P Turza on May 13th, 2009 4:33 pm

    Have the hazards of non- BPA plastic bottles been examined? What about breakage of glass, electrical conductivity of metal, etc. This has all the markings of scare mongering. Inform the public and let the market decide.

  7. Water You Drinking? | MsFitUniverse on July 11th, 2009 1:01 pm

    [...] If you want to know what companies you can trust, their text messaging service instantly educates parents and guides you to BPA free product choices. To find out how to use the free service, read this podcast transcript… [...]

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