Canada Bans Plastic Bottles with Bisphenol-A Citing Health Concerns
Toronto April 18, 2008
TORONTO (AP) An ubiquitous chemical found in hard plastic water bottles, DVDs, CDs and hundreds of other common items came under increased pressure Friday when Canada said it's potentially harmful and may ban its use in baby bottles.
Health Canada made the announcement shortly after a U.S. company said it would stop selling hard-plastic Nalgene water bottles made with bisphenol A because of growing consumer concern over whether the chemical poses a health risk. A preliminary U.S. government report has found a chemical used to make baby bottles and other shatterproof plastic containers could be linked to a range of hormonal problems.
Health Canada's action could be the first step toward Canada banning the chemical altogether.
Earlier this week, the U.S. government's National Toxicology Program said 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.
In Canada, Health Minister Tony Clement said a draft report on bisphenol A has found the chemical could endanger people — particularly newborns and infants — and the environment.
"To be prudent, the government of Canada is proposing to reduce bisphenol A exposure in infants and newborns by proposing a number of actions: to ban polycarbonate baby bottles; to develop stringent migration targets for bisphenol A in infant formula cans; to work with industry to develop alternative food packaging and develop a code of practice; and to list bisphenol A under Schedule 1 of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act."
Ottawa is giving the public 60 days to comment on the report and Clement said it will ban its use in baby bottles if no new relevant information comes forward.
"It is our intention to ban the importation, the sale and advertising," Clement said of its use in baby bottles. "Canada will be the first country in the world to take such action to limit exposures to bisphenol A."
Earlier this week, Wal-Mart Canada and other major retailers in Canada began removing BPA-based food-related products such as baby bottles and sipping cups from store shelves.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world's largest retailer, said in a statement Friday that the Bentonville, Ark.-based company expected its entire assortment of baby bottles to be BPA-free early next year.
Highly durable and lightweight, resistant to stains and odors, and able to withstand extremes of hot and cold, screw-cap Nalgene bottles have been marketed as an environmentally responsible substitute for disposable water bottles.
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.
But critics point to an influx of animal studies linking low doses to a wide variety of ailments — from breast and prostate cancer, obesity and hyperactivity, to miscarriages and other reproductive failures.
"I think the writing's on the wall for this chemical," said Aaron Freeman, policy director of Toronto-based Environmental Defence Canada. "You've got major retailers with huge market clout pulling BPA products ... and you've got consumers in droves who are opting for alternatives. They're a bit late to the game, but they are responding to that consumer demand."
In Washington a key Democratic Senator said the chemical should be banned from all children's products and food-packing containers. Sen. Charles Schumer of New York blasted the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for signing off on bisphenol A, despite dozens of studies suggesting it may interfere with hormones and other biological functions.
"At best FDA gave Americans a false sense of comfort about a questionable substance. At worst, they put millions of Americans directly at risk," Schumer said.
Schumer plans to introduce a bill Monday banning the chemical and funding a public health campaign on its potential risks to infants. Other lawmakers are expected to propose similar measures.
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."
Nalge Nunc International, a division of Waltham, Mass.-based Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc., said Friday it will substitute its Nalgene Outdoor line of polycarbonate plastic containers with BPA-free alternatives.
"We continue to believe that Nalgene products containing BPA are safe for their intended use," Steven Silverman, general manager of the Nalgene business, said in a statement. "However, our customers indicated they preferred BPA-free alternatives and we acted in response to those concerns."
Nalge Nunc was founded in 1949 by Rochester chemist Emanuel Goldberg. The lab-equipment supplier's product evolved in the 1970s after rumors spread about its scientists taking hardy lab vessels on weekend outings. That led the company to form a water-bottle consumer unit targeting Boy Scouts, hikers and campers.
In 2000, a new sports line of Nalgene-brand bottles offered in red, blue and yellow hues quickly became the rage in high schools and on college campuses.
From staff and wire reports
A report by the National Toxicology Program, released Tuesday, expressed concern that a controversial chemical, bisphenol A, or BPA, poses a risk to children and unborn babies.
The report has been eagerly awaited by consumers and environmentalists concerned about the safety of BPA, which is found in baby bottles, formula cans and a host of household products.
More than 90% of Americans are exposed to trace amounts of bisphenol, according to the CDC. The chemical leaches out of water bottles, the lining of cans and other items made with it.
The program, part of the Department of Health and Human Services, reported "some concern" — a mid-range level of risk on a five-tier scale — that low levels of BPA can cause changes in behavior, the brain, prostate gland, mammary gland and the age at which girls enter puberty. Although the decision is based on limited evidence, the report says, "the possibility that bisphenol A may alter human development cannot be dismissed."
The Environmental Working Group, an environmental advocacy group that has long lobbied against the use of BPA, calls the report a "dramatic development" that "breaks new scientific ground."
The American Chemistry Council, which represents manufacturers including Dow Chemical Co. and BASF group, says the report shows BPA is safe to use and noted that the report failed to rate risks as a "serious" concern, the highest level of alarm. The group said it supports additional research.
The federal National Toxicology Program said Tuesday that experiments on rats found precancerous tumors, urinary tract problems and early puberty when the animals were fed or injected with low doses of the plastics chemical bisphenol A.
The group comprises scientists from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Institutes of Health.
The toxicology group's findings echo those of researchers assembled by the National Institutes of Health, who in August recommended more research on bisphenol in humans.
The FDA said in November there is "no reason at this time to ban or otherwise restrict its use." The agency on Tuesday did not immediately have any comment about the new report.
Growing misgivings about the chemical has pushed many consumers toward glass alternatives, and triggered investigations by state and federal lawmakers.
Democratic Rep. John Dingell urged FDA on Tuesday to reconsider the safety of bisphenol, saying the toxicology report's findings "fly in the face of the FDA's determination."
Dingell, who chairs the Energy and Commerce Committee in the House of Representatives, issued letters this year to seven companies that make baby formulations questioning whether they use bisphenol in the lining of their cans and bottles.
The companies included Hain Celestial Group, Nestle USA and Abbott Laboratories.
A spokeswoman for the International Formula Council, which represents baby food makers, said Tuesday, "The overwhelming scientific evidence supports the safety" of bisphenol, adding that no foreign governments have restricted or banned its use.
The National Toxicology Program will take public comments on its initial report through May. A final version will be issued this summer.
State lawmakers in New Jersey passed a bill this month that would ban the sale of all products containing bisphenol in that state.
Canada's health agency also is examining health risks of bisphenol and is expected to issue its findings in coming days.