Lawsuit Filed against Connecticut Baby-Bottle Maker

May 30, 2008

An Arkansas woman has filed a federal lawsuit accusing a Connecticut company of making plastic baby bottles with a dangerous chemical linked to serious health problems.

The lawsuit by Ashley Campbell against Playtex Products Inc. of Westport is the latest challenge involving the industrial chemical bisphenol A. The lawsuit seeks nationwide class-action status to represent what it says are thousands of people who bought plastic bottles containing the chemical from Playtex or other companies.

Canada said last month the chemical, found in hard plastic water bottles, DVDs, CDs and hundreds of other common items, is potentially harmful and may ban its use in baby bottles. A growing number of parents are turning to glass bottles amid the concerns over bisphenol A.

The U.S. government’s National Toxicology Program said last month that there is “some concern” about BPA from experiments on rats that linked the chemical to changes in behavior and the brain, early puberty and possibly precancerous changes in the prostate and breast. While such animal studies only provide “limited evidence” of risk, the draft report said a possible effect on humans “cannot be dismissed.”

With more than 6 million pounds produced in the United States each year, bisphenol A is found in dental sealants, baby bottles, the liners of food cans, CDs and DVDs, eyeglasses and hundreds of household goods.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world’s largest retailer, has said its baby bottles will be BPA-free early next year.

Jacqueline Burwitz, a spokeswoman for Playtex, said the company does not comment on pending lawsuits. She cited a general statement by the company about BPA that says U.S. and worldwide regulatory bodies continue to deem the ingredient safe.

Citing “consumer confusion,” the company says it offers a free sample of a bottle system that uses disposable liners that are BPA-free and plans to convert the balance of its product line to BPA-free materials by the end of the year.

Citing multiple studies in the United States, Europe and Japan, the chemicals industry maintains that polycarbonate bottles contain little BPA and leach traces considered too low to harm humans.

The lawsuit, filed last week, contends that hundreds of studies and papers have repeatedly shown that BPA can be toxic even at extremely low doses.

BPA leaches from the plastic into liquid or food and is accelerated when the bottles are heated, the lawsuit says. A survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control in 2003 and 2004 found detectable levels of BPA in 93 percent of 2,517 urine samples from people 6 and older, according to the lawsuit.

But Playtex has failed to adequately disclose that its plastic bottle products are formulated using the chemical, according to the lawsuit, which seeks damages to be determined at trial and a finding that the company violated the law.

Playtex targets new parents by touting its products are safer than other products, the lawsuit says.

In her lawsuit, Campbell says she bought Playtex’s plastic bottles unaware that they were formulated with or contained BPA, according to the lawsuit.

“This lack of consumer awareness is a direct result of the defendant Playtex’s and other defendants’ efforts to perpetuate a very lucrative revenue stream that would be interrupted and reduced if the general public and persons similarly situated to plaintiff were to learn the truth and seek safer alternatives,” the lawsuit states.

An expert panel of 38 academic and government researchers who attended a U.S. National Institutes of Health-sponsored conference said in a study in August that “the potential for BPA to impact human health is a concern, and more research is clearly needed.”

Phone message seeking comment were left for Campbell’s lawyer.

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