Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Plastic, Plastic, Everywhere...

and nary a safe kind to drink from!

Other title possibility: "Thank you, Science Olympiad!"

When I was a senior in high school, our Science Olympiad team won the state championship and we got to fly to Grand Rapids, Michigan, for the National Competition.

I was in multiple events; we were a small town high school with a small team. (We were also WAY out of our league. Thank you, South Carolina for coming in dead last, just below us!) Some of my favorite events from my years on the team, stretching all the way back to junior high, were Rocks, Minerals and Fossils, Name that Organism, Write It/Do It, and the one I excelled in: Designer Genes. (I still have nightmares about getting lost in the woods on some nature idetification event that tested your orienteering skills. I have probably blocked that event name from my memory.) But perhaps the most useful, though I wouldn't have thought it to be at the time, was a new event that year called Polymer Detectives.

Basically, I got to be the guinea pig for this new event that was all about plastics. When I was a participant, they gave you little pieces of plastics to test to try to identify their properties. You could see if they floated, bend them, and touch them, though I don't remember being able to burn them, though we probably did. I burned lots of things in high school.

For the event, my partner and I had to memorize the properties of all 7 types of plastics and be able to identify them from tiny samples. One example -- if you could tell that the piece was from a plastic milk bottle, you knew it was Type 2, HDPE, and could go on to answer questions about its properties. (Not that I was any good at the event, really--most of the time I think it felt like we were just guessing.)

But I am thankful for some of that Plastic Detective knowledge now, because today it helped me identify some harmful plastics in my own home!

There have been many studies released recently about dangerous chemicals in some polycarbonate plastics, called BPA's, that can leach out into whatever you put in them, possibly due to heat. That's why you should never microwave plastic containers, and some are still not safe to clean in the dishwasher. They have found levels of these BPA chemicals in the urine of pregnant and nursing moms and kids. I don't know about you, but I'm not sure I want some crazy chemicals leaching into my body. This morning, they highlighted unsafe drinking bottles and cups on the Today show (Click here to see a video segement.)

The most surprising thing I learned from the Today Show segment (and confirmed on the Z Report) was that Nalgene bottles, those staples of my college years, are actually high in BPA's!

So, look at the labels before you buy! This morning on the Today Show, they boiled it down to a pretty simple formula:

NEVER use Type 3, 6, or 7 plastics for drinking or eating.

Type 1 plastics: Only use once, then take to a recycling center. Do not re-use, because washing and cleaning with harsh chemicals can release BPA's into what your drink.

The rest should be okay, especially if they are labeled BPA free, like Born Free bottles.

Better yet, use glass or metal! Glass baby bottles are making a comeback. And so are aluminum sippy cups.

But, if you have lots of plastic kids' cups and can't find a plastic label or are unsure about the BPA content, then this site is a great resource for finding out if your children's products are harmful:

The Z Report on BPA in Children's Feeding Products

The above report even has a mobile number you can call to find out information about plastic products when you are out shopping. I would recommend at least checking it out to see if any of the products you have are made by the companies listed as "Fair" or "Poor."

As soon as I watched the report this morning, I checked my son's sippy cups. I had just bought a set of 5 cups and 2 bowls with lids on sale for only $10, thinking that surely those would be unsafe. (They are made in China, but that's a different story.) They were Type 5, and labeled dishwasher and microwave safe. Ok.

But, I picked up my son's Gerber Fun Grips Soft Starter Spill Proof Cup (the one with the two handles) to examine it. There was no plastic type insignia. No label at all. And here is where my former glory as a Science Olympian came in looked a bit like type 3 plastic to me. I couldn't be sure without damaging the cup, so I checked the Z Report. Sure enough, although many of the Gerber cups ARE safe, the Fun Grips Cup with the double handles is not BPA-free.

Bye, bye, Gerber cup, and good riddance! We never liked you anyway because your two handles make it too easy to sling around milk everywhere. I'm hoping to replace it soon with either a SIGG kid's bottle, Kleen Kanteen or Foogoo by Thermos Sippy Cup. Or maybe all three!

I hope this has been an entertaining and informative public service announcement. Parents, go check out your kids' cups!


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