It wouldn’t be accurate to say silicone is a “miracle material.” But it is a flexible, multi-use material with many industrial, automotive and electronic uses. And now, innovative developers are finding new ways to use silicone to improve consumer products and medical devices ranging from baking mats and bobbin holders to baby teethers and shower heads.
Silicone’s many various uses come from its ability to handle temperature extremes, durability, flexibility, odor and stain resistance and its longevity. Silicone products don’t fade or scratch over time. And they’re hygienic and hypoallergenic because there are no open pores to harbor bacteria.
But for many of us, questions remain about what silicone actually is and whether it is safe for humans, particularly infants and toddlers.
What is Silicone?
Silicone is basically made up from silicon, the second most abundant element in the Earth’s crust after oxygen. When silicon and oxygen atoms are combined with carbon and/or hydrogen, the result is silicone.
Silicon very rarely occurs as a pure element in nature. Rather it is present in dusts and sands as silica. That is why you’ll frequently see silica mentioned in connection with silicone…and why you might have seen silicone described as “organic.”
Silicone products are subject to testing by various regulatory agencies around the world including the Food and Drug Administration here in the U.S. as well as the SGS, one of the world’s leading inspection, verification, testing and certification companies; and the European Union and the European Free Trade Association countries.
Of concern, especially to parents, is BPA or Bisphenol A, a chemical used in a variety of products that the FDA has linked to possible hazards to fetuses, infants, and young children . Animal studies have reported links between BPA and developmental issues in babies and toddlers, neurological developmental issues, breast and prostate cancer, early-onset puberty, and polycystic ovary syndrome.
Although there is some controversy about these findings, responsible parents are concerned about limiting the exposure of their children to this chemical. And, it is worth noting that the 2003-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III) conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found detectable levels of BPA in 93% of 2517 urine samples from people six years and older. The CDC NHANES data are considered representative of exposures in the United States.
Silicone products are typically 100 percent free of BPA, making them especially attractive to parents of babies and young children.
Silicone is recyclable, although only in specialty recycling centers. There are even retail products available for consumers enabling them to recycle silicone they have no further use for into other products including food molds, cookie and cake decorating molds, children’s blocks and others.
Silicone’s properties, however, make it extremely long-lived. In all probability, silicone products will be recycled because the product is no longer necessary, not because it has somehow deteriorated or degraded.