Health Canada decries dangerous plastic

Nalgene and plastic baby bottles may soon be relics of the past. Health Canada is preparing to declare bisphenol A, the chemical used to make the…

Nalgene and plastic baby bottles may soon be relics of the past.

Health Canada is preparing to declare bisphenol A, the chemical used to make the hard, glass-like plastics, a toxic substance.

The ubiquitous chemical is used to create polycarbonate plastics and is also found in most canned-food and drink containers.

Because of its similarity to estrogen, bisphenol A acts as a hormone disruptor and can lead to breast and prostate cancer, early puberty in girls, obesity and attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder.

Bisphenol A is in the final stages of review under Environment and Health Canada’s Chemicals Management Plan, which collects information on the properties and uses of approximately 200 chemical substances identified as high priorities.

Bisphenol A was studied in the second phase of this initiative and identified, along with eight other substances, as a high hazard to humans. Canadians were also identified as having a high likelihood of exposure to it.

“The ministers are predisposed to conclude, based on a screening assessment, that this substance satisfies the definition of toxic,” said the 20-page substance profile on bisphenol A.

“The management actions being considered for such substances at this time include prohibition through regulations of the manufacture, use, sale, offer for sale and import of this substance.”

Environmental Defence, a Canadian environmental advocacy group, is calling for a ban on bisphenol A in all consumer products.

Food and beverage containers should be banned first, said Jennifer Foulds, communications director for the group.

“Because obviously those are some of the key ways that people are getting bisphenol A in their bodies,” she said.

“It’s especially dangerous for babies, with plastic baby bottles.”

Environmental Defence has been doing their own testing on bisphenol A.

The advocacy group tested three major brands of baby bottles — Gerber, Avent and Playtex.

“At room temperature some of them still leach bisphenol A,” said Foulds.

“But when they’re heated up, all of them leached bisphenol A at detectable levels, which studies have shown could be cause for concern.”

Because bisphenol A is a suspected hormone disruptor, it could actually affect how children grow and develop, wreaking havoc on their hormone systems.

Tests found that exposure in animals caused brain damage, hyperactivity and lower dopamine levels, which is widely considered to be the cause of Attention Deficit Disorder.

The chemical has also been found to cause breast cancer, prostate cancer, ovarian disease and uterine fibroids, which is the major source of infertility in women.

“Tests have shown that women who repeatedly miscarry have significantly elevated levels of (bisphenol A) in their blood,” said Federick vom Saal, a development biologist from the University of Missouri.

“It’s mad to make plastic out of a chemical known to act like a sex hormone.”

“The reality is scientists have been studying the chemical for quite a while,” said Foulds.

“And there’s been a couple of key scientists, in the United States in particular, that have been really raising the alarm about bisphenol A for probably close to a decade now.

“So it’s just sort of come to the forefront because the government is studying the safety of it.”

Recently, Environmental Defence tested four federal politicians for toxins in their system.

The participants included Health Minister Tony Clement and former Environment minister Rona Ambrose.

An additional test was conducted on the leaders of the three major political parties in Ontario.

All seven of the Canadian politicians had measurable levels of bisphenol A in their blood.

A few state governments in the United States have looked at either banning or regulating the use of bisphenol A.

“I think if the federal government here decides to take serious action, that would definitely affect what other states are doing,” said Foulds.

“As far as we know, if Canada were to take action on bisphenol A, it would be the only country that we know of to do so.”

Polycarbonates, desirable for their durability, are one of the most widely used plastics in the world.

It is commonly marked with the recycling code 7.

The letters PC sometimes appear below.

Despite the large amount of polycarbonate being used in Canada, banning the plastic would not be difficult, said Foulds.

“The reality is that there are lots of alternatives out there,” she said.

“And consumers are already choosing to buy different products.”

Companies like Mountain Equipment Co-op and Lululemon refuse to sell items made from the plastic.

Whitehorse’s Coast Mountain Sports pulled all Nalgene bottles from its shelves in December.

The sporting goods store has seen a subsequent increase in the sale of stainless steel water bottles and other alternatives.

And it’s happening all over Canada.

“A lot of people are using aluminum or stainless steel reusable bottles because they don’t want to touch the hard plastic ones that have bisphenol A,” said Foulds.

“And lots of parents are already using glass baby bottles and avoiding plastic altogether.

“I think actually, in some ways, the Canadian public is already ahead of the government and retailers on this.”

The government had set a deadline of May 16 to issue its assessment of bisphenol A.

However, the Globe and Mail is reporting that due to intense public interest the government has decided to come forward sooner and could make the announcement sometime this week.

The document outlining this finding will be available for a 60-day public comment period.

If no new information overturns the finding the government plans to issue a final report outlining control measures within the year.

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