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Thinking Green

Your immediate environment is more important than ever. Here's how to make your space a healthier place.

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Plastic Precautions

You may have heard of the controversy over the chemicals in some kitchen storage containers, plastic baby bottles and baby toys. Government regulators assure us these products are safe, even for pregnant women and infants. But concerned scientists and environmental groups disagree, citing years of disturbing results from research conducted on lab animals.

“We can’t tell from animal studies exactly how exposure at different times during pregnancy affects a developing human fetus, but these chemicals may impact health at much lower exposure levels than previously believed, if the effects seen in animal studies also occur in humans,” says Tom Natan, Ph.D., research director for the National Environmental Trust. “We certainly don’t want to imply that there’s danger lurking in every plastic container, but it makes sense to protect yourself,” he adds. Until the experts sort out the potential problems, Natan recommends making a few simple changes to your normal routine. Here are some pointers for using plastic safely:

Look for the Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI) identification code stamped on products (a number inside a triangle with chasing arrows). Choose baby bottles made with polyethylene (#2 or #4) or polypropylene (#5). For information on products that don’t have these numbers, call the manufacturer’s toll-free number or check the company’s website.

Some experts also suggest discarding clear, rigid plastic bottles that are worn or scratched. Safe replacements include Avent Via Nurser Kit, Evenflo Classic Glass Nurser bottles and Playtex Original Nurser bottles (these brands are available at mass retailers including Babies “R” Us and Target). For more on plastics and baby bottles, visit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s website, www.epa.gov.

Look for toys and furniture that don’t contain polyvinylchloride (PVC) #3. These may contain plasticizers called di-isononyl phthalates (DINP) shown to cause birth defects, cancer and organ damage in mice. New PVC products often have a strong odor; if it smells like a new shower curtain, it’s probably PVC. Companies that make phthalate-free toys include Gerber (800-443-7237, www.gerber.com); Little Tikes (800-321-0803, www.littletikes.com); and The Natural Baby Catalog (800-922-7397, www.shop.store.yahoo.com/naturalbaby).

Microwave foods only in glass or microwave-safe plastic containers such as Tupperware and Rubbermaid. “And, microwave formula in a glass measuring cup and pour it into the plastic bottle after it cools,” Natan says. Today’s plastic wraps such as Glad Cling Wrap, Saran Wrap and Ziploc Storage Bags are considered safe, but Natan recommends glass food covers when microwaving. “The problem isn’t chemicals leaching out, but the plastic itself melting into the food at high temperatures,” he says.
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