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Strike against Bisphenol – Consumer awareness dictates product shift despite regulatory indifference

Posted by evolvingwheel on March 1, 2008

There has been a growing concern about Bisphenol-A (BPA) over the last couple of years. As different lab test results come out through the media outlet and Internet, highlighting the negative effects on human health and more so on infant health, a sharply heightening awareness is leading consumers to find different options. The story can be told better if I explain a bit about this BPA and how it affects us.

Bisphenol A is a hormone-disrupting chemical considered to be potentially harmful to human health and the environment. BPA is a key building block in plastics and is used ubiquitously in different plastic products ranging from polycarbonate to polyester. BPA is one of many man-made chemicals classified as endocrine disruptor. Lately, the concern has been revolving around several critical findings that talk about the potential of leaching of this compound from transparent plastic bottles being used for feeding babies. In the US several test data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have shown that there is a decent amount of BPA in urine samples of humans between ages of 6 and 85. And CDC data reflects that “Children had higher levels than adolescents and adolescents had higher levels than adults,” says endocrinologist Retha Newbold of the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Read more about the studies in the following links below:

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/01/080130092108.htm

http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=plastic-not-fantastic-with-bisphenol-a

The interesting part of this is how consumer awareness of these findings is translating into buying behaviors. The market for infant bottles and other baby utensils that employ BPA is staggering and more than 95% of the feeding bottles today are made from BPA. While Japan, Canada, and EU have acted judiciously on this continued research on the health effects of BPA leaching from the bottles, the FDA in the US are taking a slower reactionary standpoint to the growing concern. Meanwhile, there is a war of words between the chemical industry and health activists on this issue. The industry argues that unless BPA is proved to have ill effects it should continue to be manufactured and used, because it is cheap, lightweight, shatterproof and offers other features that are hard to match. There is no alternative for either of those materials [polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins] that would simply drop in where those materials are used. On the other hand, the activists claim that polyethylene and polypropylene plastics would be fine substitutes for several products. While the industry groups, consumer advocates, government regulators, and healthcare professionals debate over the efficacy of these researches and the true impact on human health, the consumers are now deciding their own options. bisphenolabottle.jpg

There is an increasing number of online orders for BPA free plastic feeding bottles and glass bottles. What could be more dear to one other than his/her kid’s safety. This has juxtaposed with the awareness through blogs, websites, conventional media, and email/text notes between groups and individuals. In a web2.0 world, social networking has also augmented the viral distribution of knowledge that is translating into actions. People are not waiting for Target-Walmart to take these bottles out of their shelves. Concerned parents are going online and finding other channels to suffice their needs for a non-BPA lifestyle. It appears to me that Internet is again going to be a market driver for a product usage shift. And this time it may be a remarkable example of overriding industry dictations, vested interests, and market lobbyists.

Next comes the existing market for BPA bottles. The BPA production numbers by major manufacturers as of 1999 can be found [here]. There are two dynamics to follow. One is a new market for the substitute material for infant bottles as demands grow over the next few years, and next is the shift of the polycarbonate applications from the existing infant utensil market. It wouldn’t be surprise to me if in next few months Walmart announces that they will put BPA-free bottles on their shelves. However, such a move can’t preserve the BPA bottles parallel to the ones free from it. The comparison issue will immediately discount the BPA bottles as a consumer’s choice. Then the immediate business opening is the re-utilization of the manufacturing and distribution process of BPA for infant industry.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20080214.wlbottle14/BNStory/specialScienceandHealth/home

The final outcome could be FDA issuing a more strict guideline for BPA manufacture and application. However, consumer’s practice would preempt the regulatory aspect by enforcing the product development, marketing, and distribution towards a non-BPA world. Can we call that Internet enabled consumer2.0?

Picture Credit: Univ. of Cincinnati

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