There are two main chemicals which worry parents when speaking of babies’ dummies, or items which have been designed for very young children to put in their mouths.
- Bisphenol A
Both chemicals have been around for the last 5 decades but in recent years have hit the headlines due to worries over the damage they potentially cause to our health.
Phthalates – What Are They?
Phthalates (pronounced tha-lates) are a group of odourless, liquid chemicals produced from oil. There are many different types of phthalate but all are largely used – albeit in slightly different ways – as ‘plasticisers’, added largely to PVC plastics to make them supple and bendable.
Where Are They Found?
Phthalates are found in a huge range of products including any PVC or vinyl objects, plastic toys, glues and tubing.
What Damage Do They Do?
Phthalates belong to a group of chemicals which are becoming commonly referred to as ‘gender-bending’ or ‘hormone disrupting’ chemicals. This is because they are thought to disrupt the delicate balance of the endocrine system which controls reproduction in mammals.
A number of different studies in several countries have shown that phthalates are damaging to liver, kidneys, and reproductive organs and are easily ingested by children chewing or sucking on items which contain them.
Despite strenuous resistance by the chemical industry, semi-restrictions have been gradually put in place over the last few years, but it was not until 2005 that a European ban was implemented to stop the most ‘dangerous’ types of phthalates being used in children’s toys.
Where Do Babies Dummies Come In?
Until Greenpeace exposed the issue in 1997 and demonstrated that children, in their view, were being ‘poisoned’, phthalates were used in teething rings and dummies to make them soft and pliable.
The restrictions for Europe are better late than never, but many environmentalists say that they do not go far enough. So far the USA has only taken a precautionary approach in warning against the chemicals, and while some of the major manufacturer’s have voluntarily phased them out of their children’s products, there is still no outright ban.
In addition, the ban only applies for some toys and products specifically designed to be sucked or chewed in children under three. But children are fairly indiscriminate when they come to sucking and chewing and phthalates are still added to other items within easy reach of a toddler.
They are also routinely added to cosmetics such as nail varnish and a mother’s fingers are not only sucked on by their infant, but she may well bite on her own nails. With phthalates being believed to adversely affect a baby in utero, this is also cause for concern.
Bisphenol A – What Is It?
Bisphenol A is used to make poly-carbonate and epoxy resins. One of its uses is as an additive to plastic which needs to be shatter-proof.
It is found in babies plastic poly-carbonate feeding bottles and drinking cups where it has been found to be able to leach into milk.
What Damage Does It Do?
Bisphenol A affects the immune, reproductive, and neurological systems. In animals it has been proven to interfere with the endocrine system and brain function as well as acting as a pre-cursor to cancerous growths.
Despite a ban being introduced by Canada earlier this year, the EU Commission rejected such action being taken in Europe.
How Do I Know Which Products Are Safe?
A European ban from using some phthalates are in place for some products. But campaigners say that it does not go far enough and the chemical industry should be forced to use less harmful chemicals. Manufacturers are also not obliged to list the chemicals contained in products, so it is very difficult to tell if they are included or not.
In July of this year, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) rejected evidence in support of a similar ban for the use of Bisphenol A in children’s drinking bottles. While action groups are calling for bottles to be labelled with a warning sticker, it is best to avoid them or use discriminately.
To make sure you are using products which are safe for your baby, shop wisely. Go to ‘green’ outlets, and only buy from companies which have pledged not to stock items containing these chemicals.
What Can I Do?
- Throw away old and possibly cracked feeding bottles.
- Throw away any old dummies or teething rings (which might have been made prior to the most recent ban).
- Don’t buy any PVC toys; even from an ‘ethical’ supplier (companies which said they had phased out phthalates were still selling toys containing them).
- Check with environmental campaigning groups such as Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth for a list of products deemed safe.