Written by Hester Paul
Plastic products are found everywhere; child care settings are no exception. Certain plastics contain chemicals that can harm human health and we find that some of these chemicals migrate from the product into our bodies. (One compound is typically found in 93 percent of the U.S. population and in higher levels in children compared to adults.)
Children are particularly vulnerable to these chemicals for several additional reasons. Their systems and organs are still developing. Young children’s typical behavior includes inserting plastic objects into their mouths.
Two compounds of special concern— phthalates and Bisphenol A (BPA)—have been found in baby bottles, sippy cups, teething rings and toys.
Phthalates (thay-lates) are a class of chemicals that are used to soften plastics, such as PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride), bind fragrances in products and act as solvents and fixatives, such as nail polishes. Children often inhale fragrances, chew on plastic toys and absorb products (lotions, shampoos) through their skin. Exposure to phthalates is linked to harmful health effects, including developmental and reproductive problems, asthma, preterm birth, low sperm count, genital malfunction, hormone disruption, premature puberty and development of some cancers.
Bisphenol A (BPA) is a hormone disrupter that is used to harden some plastics. BPA can be found in baby bottles, water bottles, canned food liners and sippy cups. We are exposed to BPA primarily through ingestion, as it travels to the body through food and drink containers. Adverse health effects may include breast cancer, miscarriages, birth defects, low sperm count, hyperactivity and aggressiveness.
As the National Director of the Eco-Healthy Child Care® (EHCC) program and a parent of two young children, I take the time to ensure that my children are not exposed to unsafe plastics.
Follow these EHCC suggestions to protect the children you care for:
1. Avoid plastics with recycling codes #3, #6, #7 (unless the #7 product is also labeled “BPA free”).
2. Purchase baby bottles and sippy cups labeled “BPA free” or glass options (newer baby bottles are supposed to be BPA free under Federal law).
3. Never heat or microwave food or drink in any plastic containers, as leaching of toxic chemicals from plastic to food or liquid may occur. Use a paper towel instead of plastic wrap to cover food in the microwave.
4. Only buy “new” plastic toys for infants and toddlers that are labeled “phthalate-free” or “PVC-free.”
5. Discard all plastic food containers with scratches, especially baby bottles, sippy cups and infant feeding plates and cups.
To learn more about reducing your exposure to unsafe plastics, click here.
EHCC helps early childhood learning environments to be as healthy, safe and green as possible by reducing children’s exposure to toxic chemicals.