Royal Philips Electronics, a world leader in healthcare, lifestyle and lighting, has announced its decision not to sell its Avent baby products in North America, which contain bisphenol A (BPA), an industrial chemical suspected of harming human development.
''Philips made the decision to stop shipping polycarbonate baby bottles to retailers in the US because the company values its relationship with its customers and there is current confusion about the use of BPA in infant feeding products,'' Shannon Jenest, a spokeswoman for Avent said.
The company will continue to sell polycarbonate baby bottles elsewhere in the world, she said.
Health officials caution about possible ill effects believe that infants and children are at the greatest risk because of their quickly developing bodies and sensitive systems.
In the face of growing public and legal pressure that began in San Francisco, another five major companies have also agreed to stop selling the shatter-proof polycarbonate baby bottles containing BPA. These include Disney First Years, Playtex Products Inc, Gerber, Evenflo Co, and Dr. Brown.
On Wednesday, lawmakers in Suffolk County, New York, became the first in the nation to vote on a ban on baby bottles and toddler sippy cups made with BPA.
BPA, first synthesised in 1891, is used to harden plastics, and it appears in everything from baby bottles to sunglasses, but increasingly has been linked to health problems, particularly in the very young.
BPA is widely used in hundreds of commercial applications, including the inside lining of metal food and drink containers, epoxy resins and polyvinyl chloride plastics.
Some research and public health advocates say foetuses, infants and children are at greatest risk because BPA can interfere with cell development when their bodies are still developing.
Because of pressure from consumer rights groups and a move toward toxic-free products, some of the companies have been making BPA-free alternatives, including old-fashioned glass baby bottles. Nalgene, a leader in sales of portable drinking water bottles, discontinued its polycarbonate lines last year.
In 2006, San Francisco became the first city to ban BPA in children's products but backed off of the ordinance after chemical manufacturers, toymakers, and a local retailer, Citikids Baby News, challenged it in court. San Francisco supervisors said at the time that the law was difficult to enforce without similar state or federal laws.
"Eliminating BPA from baby bottles is an important first step," Pavley said on Thursday. "I hope makers of formula cans and other baby feeding containers follow suit and acknowledge the inherent dangers of (the chemical) to the developing bodies of young children, who now ingest it on a daily basis when it leaches into their food and drink."
However, industry studies found the chemical caused no damage to laboratory animals or humans, but more than 150 government and academic-sponsored studies have found a series of development problems even at low exposures.
Studies in lab animals indicate that even small amounts of bisphenol A can damage brain and reproductive systems, alter mammary and prostate glands and lead to heart disease, obesity and diabetes.
Concerns about BPA stem from the fact that it can mimic estrogen, a powerful hormone. While the kidneys of mature children and adults quickly eliminate the chemical from their bodies, newborns and infants may retain it for longer periods. Babies can be exposed to BPA through infant formula packaging. Exposure could lead to developmental problems, proponents of the ban contend.
Philips bought the UK-based Avent in 2006 and sells the Avent products in 70 countries worldwide.
Royal Philips Electronics of the Netherlands is a diversified world leader in healthcare, lifestyle and lighting. Philips employs approximately 121,000 employees in more than 60 countries worldwide. With sales of EUR26 billion in 2008, the company also has interests flat TV, portable entertainment and oral healthcare.