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Federal government chooses BPA caution

Paul Sheridan, the president of Yukon Springs Inc. is glad that Health Canada has cleared up its stance on polycarbonate plastics.

Paul Sheridan, the president of Yukon Springs Inc. is glad that Health Canada has cleared up its stance on polycarbonate plastics.

Sheridan’s water jugs are made of the plastic.

And lately he’s been dealing with customers who are worried about their health.

Sheridan doesn’t think there’s much of a problem.

“Nobody sticks them in the microwave or the oven,” said Sheridon.

“The big problem is with heating plastic — that’s when the bisphenol is released.

“I mean, your computer is made of hard plastic, do you get bisphenol poisoning from it? Or the phone? Or the dashboard in your car?

“No, you don’t.”

Nevertheless, last week Health Canada declared bisphenol A toxic to human health and the environment.

The chemical is found in the hard polycarbonate plastics used to make baby bottles and other food and drink containers, like Sheridan’s cooler jugs.

Because of its similarity to estrogen — it was once considered as a possible candidate for use as a contraceptive — it acts as a hormone disruptor and experts believe it can cause many harmful effects.

The ubiquitous chemical has been said to cause breast and prostate cancer, early puberty in girls and type two diabetes.

But infants are the most vulnerable.

“Although our science tells us exposure levels to newborns and infants are below the levels that cause effects, it is better to be safe than sorry,” said federal Health Minister Tony Clement.

“Consequently, I am announcing actions that will reduce exposure and increase safety.”

Ottawa plans to ban the importation, sale and advertising of polycarbonate baby bottles.

Health Canada will also work with industry to reduce the level of bisphenol A in the linings of tin and aluminum cans.

However, Clement is adamant that the nutritional benefits of canned infant formula far outweigh the current risk of exposure to the toxic chemical.

Clement also announced funds to an aggressive research plan focused on mothers, the fetus, newborns and infants.

Environment Canada also found that, at low levels, bisphenol A can harm fish and aquatic organisms over time.

The chemical can currently be found in wastewater and sludge-treatment plants.

According to the report, Canadians can continue to use hard plastic reusable water bottles.

“The draft assessment tells us that most Canadians need not be concerned,” said Clement.

“This is because health effects occur at levels much greater than those we are exposed to in Canada.”

The whole issue was a great big furor, said Sheridan, citing Clement’s comments that the measures were “erring on the side of caution.”

“You buy a can of beans or something like that, there’s a lining in the can, right?” said Sheridan.

“It hasn’t bothered you, has it? It hasn’t poisoned me and I’ve been alive for quite a few years.”

Nevertheless, companies across the country have pulled the questionable plastics from their shelves.

Wal-Mart, Sears, London Drugs and Home Depot have recently stopped selling products that contain the chemical.

Hudson’s Bay Co., Canadian Tire and Mountain Equipment Co-op have also switched to alternatives.

In many cases, it’s the popular Nalgene water bottles that are being pulled.

On Friday, Nalgene announced that, in response to consumer demand — or lack thereof — it would phase out production of polycarbonate containers that include the chemical.

The company will focus on existing products and it has recently launched Everyday line, which are made of materials that do not contain bisphenol A.

There are alternative plastics that can be used for Yukon Springs’ large jugs, “but they’re garbage,” said Sheridan.

“We’ve tried them and they’re crap. They’re soft and they don’t stand up to any usage or abuse. You drop one and they’re toast.”

“Ours at least bounce.”

The Health minister’s report also stressed that, if used, bisphenol A bottles need to be used properly.

That means not heating them up and not using them to hold acidic liquids, like orange juice.

Old worn bottles are also more likely to leach the chemical.

Yukon Springs reuses its large water bottles but disposes of them when they’re worn out, said Sheridan.

In the last few weeks he has fielded many questions from customers worried about health risks.

“We’ve supplied the driver with all the latest details,” said Sheridan.

“If anyone has any questions, he says, ‘Here, photocopy this. You can make up your mind for yourself.’”

While the announcement is good news for companies that use bisphenol A plastics, it’s also good news for those that are trying to eliminate the stuff.

Declaring bisphenol A toxic is a pretty strong conclusion, said Federick vom Saal, a development biologist from the University of Missouri.

“But it’s consistent with the national institute of health and a panel of (bisphenol A) experts who published a consensus statement in August of 2007.

“You can’t dismiss the potential for harm of infants.”

As many as 10 US states are trying to bring forward legislation on the chemical, but have not yet been able to do so, said vom Saal.

Canada will be the first to take such definitive action against certain uses of the plastic.

However, Japan got rid of the stuff more than 10 years ago after a study found that woman who repeatedly miscarried had higher levels of bisphenol A in their system.

But in Japan legislation wasn’t needed.

After the report came out, consumers started demanding products free of bisphenol A and producers phased it out.

A similar trend has reached North America, said vom Saal.

“Retailers and manufacturers are responding to consumer demand and non-BPA baby bottles are out of stock everywhere.”

“They can’t produce them fast enough.”

The action against baby products is just a start towards a larger ban, said vom Saal.

“It’s the obvious place to start — in the most sensitive part of the population. Then you can move on to other areas of concern.”

The effects in infants are permanent and have been proven in a number of tests to lead to obesity, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder.

The effects on adults are less clear because, like the birth control pill, estrogen-like bisphenol A will work its way out of an adult system.

“At least, we think,” said vom Saal.

“And we know that prostate cancer cells proliferate with increased estrogen and it’s the same for breast cancer cells.”

Fetuses are the most susceptible to the chemical, he added.

Pregnant women should be careful when using polycarbonate plastics, said Sheridan.

“Based on the literature, I’d err on the side of caution,” he said.