Are babies ingesting more than formula in their bottles? Study looks at microplastics ingestion

Medical Watch

Are babies ingesting more than formula in their bottles?

A new study looks at polypropylene plastic, one of the most commonly produced plastics in the world when it comes to food preparation and storage. It is used to make everyday items, including baby bottles.

Now researchers in Dublin say heating the material releases tiny plastic particles. But scientists say what we know about the health implications of ingesting microplastics is in the infancy stage.

Dr John Boland is a professor of chemistry at Trinity College in Dublin.

“Polypropylene is hugely popular material,” he said. “Not just on baby bottles. It’s found on plastic wear, materials such as snap-on plastic lid containers, plastic kettles, plastic coffee cups.”

And polypropylene plastic accounts for nearly 82 percent of all baby bottles. Looking at a large sample in the global marketplace, researchers at Trinity College found, when heated, polypropylene infant-feeding bottles can release up to 16 million microplastics and trillions of smaller nanoplastics per-liter. The higher the temperature of liquid inside the bottle, the more microplastics released.

“We found regardless of the type of product, we found on the order of 1 million or several million microplastic particles are released per litre of contained liquid,” Boland said.

The average daily exposure level for infants was in excess of 1 million microplastics. In North America that number was even higher at 2.2 million particles per day.

“We’re very concerned,” Boland said. “Not to unduly alarm parents about this but you can just imagine, you read in the newspaper, ‘A million particles. I’ve been feeding my child for 4 or 5 months.’ That’s quite a daily uptake.”

To mitigate exposure, Boland and his team developed their own formula for parents. One they’re hoping the World Health Organization will adopt.

  1. Follow current guidelines to sterilize the baby bottle using near-boiling water.
  2. In a separate non-plastic container, heat more sterilizing water.
  3. Let that water cool then use it to gently rinse the sterilized baby bottle several times. This step will help clear away the microplastic particles.
  4. In another non-plastic container, prepare the baby formula itself and allow it to cool
  5. Place the baby formula into the cooled, rinsed and sterilized baby bottle. Do not vigorously shake the formula in the bottle at any time.

 “That will result in a dramatic reduction of microplastic release down to fractional percent,” Boland said. “It will not eliminate it completely, but we think that mitigating step is an important step and parents should know that.”

It’s part of the precautionary principle: If you know something, reveal it. And for parents, better safe than sorry, even though scientists still don’t know the health implications of ingesting microplastic particles.

Boland and his team are calling for further study.

“As far as we know there is no evidence indicating adverse health effects. This is the precautionary principle, where we know we are shedding them, we know we are ingesting them,” Boland said. “We’re raising the issue regarding baby bottles because we’re concerned that the cohort is developing an immune system. And we don’t know what the effects are, specifically of microplastics. So we’re calling out for a study that people look more carefully at the potential health impacts of microplastics.”

Going forward, the Dublin research team not only wants to develop a coating to separate hot water from plastic, they’d like to develop a completely new way to engineer the material.

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