I wrote about bisphenol-A a year ago when the Harper government announced it would be conducting a review on the controversial hormone-mimicking plastic, which is used to make baby bottles, water bottles and as a lining in food cans.
While I wasn’t impressed about the fact that legislators in this country had allowed corporations to experiment on us for so long with this hard-as-glass plastic with its un-plastic taste, I applauded Health Canada for the “bold move” of finally investigating it, much as the media is doing now in reaction to its latest announcement.
If Canada follows through and designates BPA as “toxic” it will be “the beginning of the end for this chemical,” said Dr. Rick Smith, executive director of Environmental Defence.
Health Minister Tony Clement hinted on Friday that the federal government will probably ban baby bottles made with BPA because of concerns about its effects on infants.
“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 use 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,” said Clement.
Schedule 1 is dedicated to “toxic” chemicals, such as asbestos, lead and mercury.
Small levels of exposure to bisphenol-A have been linked with a variety of health problems, including obesity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, breast cancer and a wide range of developmental problems.
The hormonal effects of BPA have been so extreme in lab rats that males have been turned into females.
Environmental Defence has been campaigning for two years to ban BPA and released a Toxic Nation report in February that linked health problems in infants with polycarbonate baby bottles.
It drove many consumers to switch to glass bottles.
Ottawa also intends to ban the importation, sale and advertising of baby bottles in Canada if no new information about BPA is received during a 60-day public consultation period, Clement added.
It almost seems, however, as though Health Canada’s “bold move” is too little, too late.
While it continues to dawdle with more studies and consultations, many shoppers in Canada have already given up on BPA and corporations are voluntarily pulling BPA products from the store shelves.
Nalgene, the bottle maker who popularized the shatterproof polycarbonate beverage bottle, announced it would pull them in light of Canada’s concerns.
It could have done this long before now.
Last month, Nalgene Outdoor Products, a unit of Thermo Fisher Scientific, based in Rochester, NY, unveiled an almost-identical product that is made of a plastic called Tritan copolyester, which does not contain bisphenol-A.
Wal-Mart Canada met Clement’s announcement with its own vow to phase-out of baby bottles made with BPA.
And Wal-Mart stores in the United States will pull its BPA-laden baby bottles, pacifiers and beverage containers, following a report released early last week by the US National Toxicology Program which expressed concern about BPA’s link with behavioural problems in infants and children, and early puberty in girls.
Other stores that have issued voluntary bans include Mountain Equipment Co-op, Lululemon, Shoppers Drug Mart, Home Depot Canada, Sears Canada, Rexall Pharmacies, London Drugs, Wal-Mart Canada, Canadian Tire, Forzani Group Ltd., and Hudson’s Bay Company.
Retailers have been looking for BPA alternatives, such as glass baby bottles, and selling them alongside the plastic ones, since BPA first stirred controversy in the mainstream media.
This type of marketing savvy is trumping future government baby-bottle bans or “toxic” designations of BPA to the benefit of consumers.
And while it sure is heartening to know that consumer lobbyists have had that effect, we can’t forget that it took government recognition and threats to get the ball rolling towards this voluntary product banishment.
My biggest concern amidst all this celebration of BPA-banning is that, so far, we seem to only care about infants and newborns.
What about when these babies start eating canned food other than formula?
Health Canada’s fact-sheet on bisphenol-A says, “preliminary research tells us the general public need not be concerned. In general, most Canadians are exposed to very low levels of bisphenol A and it does not pose a significant health risk.
“Our focus now is on the health of newborns and infants under 18 months.”
Because beverages are put into baby bottles following sterilization using boiling water, the infant is put at a higher risk compared to the general public, which is less likely to drink out of a Nalgene bottle, for example, immediately after it has been scalded in the dishwasher.
I’m still worried about the old bachelor who lives on an exclusively canned food diet … all those kids with busy and parents who depend on convenience-in-a-can. Those people who constantly have a bottled-water at their lips. And what about pregnant women?
A little bit of lead is not OK in our toys … Why should a lot of BPA be OK in our canned goods and bottled water?
I suppose I will have to be patient while our governments do what they do — dawdle away our tax dollars until enough consultants have been consulted and some conclusion is reached that says “toxic” means zero-tolerance; bisphenol-A must be banned.
Juliann Fraser is a writer living in Whitehorse.