Canadian health authorities announced today that they’re formally proposing to designate bisphenol A (BPA) as a toxic substance, a first step in their consideration of a ban on the sale of products with BPA. The chemical is widely used in the manufacture of polycarbonate plastics such as clear, hard, reusable water bottles, baby bottles, and food storage containers. Numerous studies have associated BPA with a range of negative developmental and reproductive effects in laboratory animals and humans. Classifying BPA as toxic would allow Canadian ministers to regulate its use, and would make that government the first in the world to initiate regulatory action on the chemical.
Perhaps in anticipation of Canada’s decision, several Canadian retailers—including Wal-Mart Canada and Home Depot Canada—announced earlier this week that they were immediately halting sales of certain plastic products containing BPA. We’ve asked the U.S. divisions of several large retailers about their plans for BPA in this country. Wal-Mart told us that, though U.S. regulators have not established any restrictions for BPA in baby bottles, “for several years now we have offered a variety of BPA-free products for customers who seek this option.” Wal-Mart expects all its baby bottles will be BPA-free sometime next year. We’ll be tracking the responses from other retailers as they come in.
The government move also comes in the same week as the release of a draft report by the U.S. National Toxicology Program (NTP). That report summarizes a body of new research suggesting that serious health risks could result from even low exposure.
Experiments in animals and human cells suggest a link between exposure to BPA at levels typical in the U.S. and increased rates of breast and prostate cancer, reproductive system abnormalities, and, for exposure in the womb, a host of developmental problems. Among its conclusions, the NTP report states that, “the possibility that human development may be altered by bisphenol A at current exposure levels cannot be dismissed."
Consumer Reports recently noted that the chemical was found to be circulating in more then 90 percent of Americans age six and older who were tested by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. BPA enters the body when it leaches from plastic containers and cans and into food and beverages.
The Canadian government’s decision reflects concerns that consumers in that country have been expressing to retailers for months. “We’ve heard loudly and clearly from customers committed to buying BPA-free products, particularly in the baby aisles,” said Andrew Pelletier, Wal-Mart Canada’s vice president of corporate affairs, in a press release.
Environmental Defence Canada, a consumer action group, has pushed for two years for a ban on BPA. Aaron Freeman, policy director for the group, says, “Getting rid of a toxic chemical in a baby bottle is a no-brainer.”
Consumers Union believes that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should re-examine the issue and consider taking similar action immediately. The FDA, the Environmental Protection Agency, and other federal regulators will rely upon the final version of the NTP report to guide future decisions on BPA.
Until the U.S. health authorities act, the NTP suggests, as we have, that consumers who want to reduce exposure to BPA can cut their use of canned foods, avoid microwaving polycarbonate plastic food containers, use baby bottles that are BPA-free and, when possible, opt for glass, porcelain, or stainless steel containers, particularly for hot food or liquids.
More information on bisphenol A is available here.