The Canadian government appears poised to announce that bisphenol A (BPA) is a dangerous substance — the first government to do so. The chemical has been reviewed under Canada’s Chemical Management Plan (CMP) which is reviewing the safety of a range of industrial and commercial chemicals on a priority basis.
Environmental groups have called for listing of the controversial chemical for some time. Some independent studies have linked bisphenol A to cancer and other diseases, even in very low doses. The chemical is suspected for mimicking hormones. Industry-funded studies have failed to establish connections between bisphenol A and illness.
Even if Health Canada issues some kind of designation of the chemical as a dangerous substance, it would not automatically mean it would be banned for use or sale in various products. The range of options includes everything from outright banning to the need for further study.
Bisphenol A is used in rigid plastics such as may be used for water containers and in other applications such as the lining of cans used for canned food. Containers include some brands of baby bottles, where the potential risk is (of course) highest.
Concerned about public risk perception and trust, retailers have already started pulling products containing BPA from store shelves. Wal-Mart, Hudson’s Bay Co. (which includes the Bay and Zellers stores) and Canadian Tire Corp., as well as The Forzani Group Ltd. (Canada’s largest sporting goods retailer) are no longer selling containers with bisphenol A and in some cases are offering refunds on such containers.
Plastics containing bisphenol A can normally be identified by a stamp with a number seven inside a triangle, along with the letters “PC.”
Last year, Mountain Equipment Co-op removed plastic bottles containing BPA from its shelves, and Lululemon Athletica Inc. also decided that all new water bottles in its stores in 2008 would be free of the chemical.
A preliminary report issued Tuesday by the U.S. National Toxicology Program said experiments on rats found precancerous prostate tumors, urinary system problems and early puberty when the animals were fed or injected with low doses of the plastics chemical bisphenol A.
Such animal studies only provide limited evidence of BPA’s developmental risks, but the possible effects on humans cannot be dismissed. The group is made up of scientists from the Centers for Disease Control, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Institutes of Health.
Environmental Defence released a study a few months ago that showed some of the most popular plastic baby bottles sold across Canada have all turned up “very significant” levels of BPA. In the study, nine different polycarbonate bottles from three different major manufacturers were heated during testing and leached levels of the chemical that ranged between five to eight parts per billion.
BPA acts like the hormone estrogen and can alter cell function. Chemical studies on animals have linked the product to cancer and infertility.