By Kim O’Hare
A move by the Canadian government in late April has caught the attention of health conscious people around the world. Canada announced its intention to ban the import, sale and advertising of baby bottles with the controversial chemical bisphenol A (BPA). That could be just the tip of the iceberg, since the chemical is widely used in many food containers ranging from plastic drink bottles to food storage containers.
UAEasy.com pictureThe proposal marks the beginning of a mandatory 60-day consultation period. The announcement comes after a lengthy review of the chemical under the government’s Chemicals Management Plan. Recent research has shown that bisphenol A is an estrogenic hormone disrupter that causes reproductive damage and may lead to prostate and breast cancer in adulthood. Babies are particularly vulnerable, since most traditional plastic baby bottles leach bisphenol A into the milk they drink.
“Although our science tells us that exposure levels to newborns and infants are below the level that cause effects, we believe that the current safety margin needs to be higher. We have concluded that it is better to be safe than sorry,” said a government release.
While the proposed ban does not include sale, import and advertising of water bottles and other food containers, major retailers across the country were pulling plastic drink containers containing BPA off store shelves within hours of the announcement. Retailers say demand for baby products with the controversial chemical come to an abrupt halt.
Depending on whom you talk to, BPA is either perfectly safe or a dangerous health risk. The plastics industry says it is harmless, but a growing number of scientists are concluding, from some animal tests, that exposure to BPA in the womb raises the risk of certain cancers, hampers fertility and could contribute to childhood behavioural problems such as hyperactivity.
According to its critics, BPA mimics naturally occurring estrogen, a hormone that is part of the endocrine system, the body’s finely tuned messaging service. “These hormones control the development of the brain, the reproductive system and many other systems in the developing foetus,” says Frederick vom Saal, Ph.D., a developmental biologist at the University of Missouri. Endocrine-disrupting chemicals can duplicate, block or exaggerate hormonal responses. “The most harm is to the unborn or newborn child,” vom Saal says.
BPA is not some new kid on the chemical block. It was first discovered in the 19th century and concerns about health risks were first raised in the 1930’s. It was thrust into the spotlight by a laboratory mishap in August 1998. An American geneticist noticed chromosomal errors in the mouse cells she was studying had shot up – from one or two percent to 40 percent. She traced the effect to polycarbonate cages and water bottles that had been washed with a harsh detergent. When her team replaced all the caging materials with non-polycarbonate plastics, the cell division returned to normal.
UAEasy.com pictureConcern over bisphenol is likely to spread due to its wide use. If you consume canned soups, beans and soft drinks (organic or not) you may be swallowing residues of BPA that can leak out of the tin linings into your food. Nearly all tin can liners contain BPA, says the Can Manufacturers Institute.
Part of the problem lies in the chemical’s tenacious behaviour. BPA has been found to leach from bottles into babies’ milk or formula; it migrates from tin liners into foods and soda and from epoxy resin-lined vats into wine; and it is found in the mouths of people who’ve recently had their teeth sealed. Ninety-five percent of Americans were found to have the chemical in their urine in a 2004 biomonitoring study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
If you own polycarbonate bottles, including those hard plastic refillable bottles that have become so popular in recent years, Check the bottom for a number #7 inside the recycling symbol. If you have a bottle like that, wash it by hand, away from the extreme heat and harsh cleansers of a dishwasher, to avoid degrading the plastic and increasing leaching of BPA.
Look for cracks or cloudiness on your reusable clear plastic bottles. Use glass baby bottles or plastic bag inserts, which are made of polyethylene, or switch to polypropylene bottles that are labelled #5 and come in colours or are milky rather than clear. Choose soups, milk and soy milk packaged in cardboard “brick” cartons, by Tetra Pak and SIG Combibloc, which are made of safer layers of aluminium and polyethylene (#2) and also recyclable.
Eat fresh foods in season and save the canned foods for convenience or emergencies. The exception is some canned fruit such as that found in smaller fruit-cocktail cans, which do not require a liner, according to the Can Manufacturers Institute. Some wines have been found to contain up to six times the BPA of canned foods. While most wines probably don’t, it’s another good reason to drink in moderation.
There are seven classes of plastics used worldwide in packaging applications. Type 7 is the catch-all “other” class, and some type 7 plastics, such as polycarbonate (sometimes identified with the letters “PC” near the recycling symbol) and epoxy resins, are made from bisphenol A monomer. When such plastics are exposed to hot liquids, bisphenol A leaches out 55 times faster than it does under normal conditions,
Types 2, 4, and 5 are believed to not leach chemicals in any significant amount. Type 1 and Type 6 have unreacted phthalates and styrene, respectively, which could leach under certain conditions, but these resins do not use bisphenol A during polymerization and package forming.
CANADA ACTS — First nation to ban BPA
Government protecting citizens from harmful chemicals
Monday October 27, 2008
The act is groundbreaking and once again places Canada at the forefront of progressive thinking.
Just days after the last ballot was cast in the 40th federal election, the Tory minority government has jumped into the international spotlight by being the first nation banning the use of bisphenol A (BPA), the controversial plastic used in popular water and baby bottles and as a liner in food tins.
The announcement, made over the Oct 17 weekend, has been on the government agenda for the better part of a year and is now a reality — BPA is on Canada’s toxic substances list.
“With our chemical management plan that we’ve put in place, this is one of 16 chemicals or substances we have tried to reduce or eliminate,” said Wetaskiwin MP Blaine Calkins.
“Canada is taking a leadership role when it comes to eliminating these products from our environment, especially in situations where it can harmful to our young children.”
BPA is a chemical used in the manufacturing of a diverse range of plastic consumer products ranging from beverage containers, dental sealants and even car interiors.
There is yet to be any definitive agreement among scientists on how much BPA exposure is safe for humans, but the consensus is that BPA does pose a health risk.
Federal Health Minister Tony Clement announced six months ago that Canada would become the first country to label BPA a dangerous substance and ban its use in baby bottles.
The health minister now has the option to ban the importation, sale and advertising of polycarbonate baby bottles containing BPA.
The levels of bisphenol A that most Canadian adults are exposed to are not considered harmful, but Canadian and international environmentalists have said studies support the need for a complete ban on the use of BPA in consumer products.
However, it is still too early to determine how the government will implement this measure or how this will affect industry.
“Most Canadians understand that we are what we eat and we are a product of our environment and this is a way to improve the health and safety of all Canadians,” Calkins said.
In Great Britain, researchers discovered in a study of approximately 1,500 people, that those diagnosed with heart disease or diabetes had higher concentrations of BPA in their urine.
And other studies have found that BPA leached out of the linings of cans heated to temperatures similar to those used during sterilization processes.
It has also been recently discovered that BPA interferes with brain processes involved in learning and understanding and may cause infertility and obesity in mice.
Canada’s decision to declare BPA a toxic substance is being seen as proactive, but Calkins added it is what Canadians should expect from government.
Cognizant of the potential effects this can have on the public all the way to landfill management; Calkins believes this is just another example of the country’s proactive measures when dealing with the overall health of the nation. We are able to take this chemical out of the environment.”