By Louise Egan
OTTAWA (Reuters) Oct 14 – Canada has declared bisphenol A to be a toxic chemical, prompting calls for far-reaching curbs on the industrial chemical that is used in everything from the linings of aluminum cans to coatings on electronic till receipts.
Canada added the compound, known as BPA, to a list of substances deemed potentially harmful to health or the environment in a notice published in the Canada Gazette on Wednesday.
That makes it easier for Ottawa to regulate the use of the chemical, perhaps by limiting how much BPA can be released into air or water or perhaps with outright bans on its use in specific food containers.
“The risk assessment of BPA put together by our federal government is very strong in terms of its conclusions, so I think it’s a foregone conclusion that it will drive further action rather quickly,” said Rick Smith, executive director of Environmental Defense, which campaigned to ban BPA.
BPA is mass produced and has been used for decades to harden plastics. It is widely used to line food and beverage containers, and a recent government report said it was present in the bodies of 91% of Canadians.
“We are literally marinating in it on a minute-by-minute basis,” said Smith.
The primary health concerns center on BPA’s potential effects as an endocrine disrupter, which can mimic or interfere with the body’s natural hormones and potentially damage development, especially of young children.
“Our science indicated that Bisphenol A may be harmful to both human health and the environment and we were the first country to take bold action in the interest of Canadians,” Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq said in a statement.
Smith said Canada has been a world leader in its crackdown on BPA. It promised the first steps to control use of the chemical in 2008, and in March this year banned plastic baby bottles that contain BPA. A next step could curb BPA use in the lining of baby formula tins, he added.
Canada could also limit BPA emissions by factories into the environment and work with industry to reduce exposure through the lining of canned goods.
But industry groups point to other research which has been inconclusive on the toxicity to humans, leading regulators in other countries to be more lenient on manufacturers.
The American Chemistry Council (AAC), an industry group, said the move to declare BPA toxic contradicted research by Canada’s own health department and it said studies show BPA does not accumulate in the body.
“Just days after the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) once again confirmed that BPA is safe for use in food-contact items, Environment Canada’s announcement is contrary to the weight of worldwide scientific evidence, unwarranted and will unnecessarily confuse and alarm the public,” said Steven G. Hentges of the AAC’s Polycarbonate/BPA Global Group.
The European Union’s food safety watchdog said on Sept. 30 it saw no need to cut the official limit of accepted exposure to BPA, despite pressure from a group of scientists and health campaigners warning of possible harmful health effects.
It’s not clear what substitute manufacturers could use to replace BPA.
What about New Zealand – what are the Authorities here doing about BPA?
They do recognise BPA has detrimental health effects, primarily as an endocrine disruptor.
In this recent document from Food Standards Australia New Zealand:
“FSANZ (Food Standards Australia New Zealand) has been keeping a close watch on the use of BPA in food contact materials. Small amounts of BPA can migrate from containers into food and beverages and its potential impact on human health has been extensively studied over the past 40 years. FSANZ is very aware of and sensitive to the public concerns about the potential adverse health effects of exposure to Bisphenol A, but remains of the opinion that there is no health risk for consumers, including infants, as ongoing testing has revealed that BPA may only be found at extremely low levels in polycarbonate plastic baby bottles and in infant formula. This view on risk is also shared by other international food regulators in Canada, the United States and Europe. ”
Clearly the Canadian authorities are taker a more conservative approach, than New Zealand’s “lets keep reviewing the issue” stance.
They go on to say:
“What are Australia and New Zealand doing to reduce levels of BPA in food?
On 30 June 2010, the Australian Government announced the phase out by major Australian retailers of polycarbonate plastic baby bottles containing BPA. The voluntary phase out from 1 July 2010 is consistent with approaches taken by governments and industry in a number of other countries that have responded to consumer concerns about BPA 
The Australian Food and Grocery Council and the New Zealand Food & Grocery Council members are voluntarily phasing out the use of BPA in polycarbonate plastic baby bottles over the coming months and many companies currently have BPA-free options available . This is in response to consumer preference and demand and not an issue about product safety.”
So in the meantime – it’s up to us to try to minimise BPA exposure from food.
How do you keep BPA our of your diet?
-Use glass bottles, and buy food in glass jars where-ever possible.
-Avoid hard plastic bottles with recycle number 7, unless it specifically says BPA free. Soda stream have recently switched to BPA free containers for example.
-Don’t use polycarbonate BPA baby bottles, choose BPA free bottles.
-Avoid metal containers with plastic linings – almost all have this now, and metal lids with plastic coating on glass jars.
-Another place I found BPA is in the plastic water container in our cappuccino maker. Refill water immediately before use rather than using water in it which has been sitting around.
-Don’t put hot liquids in BPA containers or use them in the micro-wave.
More reading / viewing here:
BPA exposure to pregnant mice makes increases risk of their offspring becoming obese
Watch this video on epigenetics: A tale of 2 Mice
Read these comments: Randy Jirtle comments on BPA exposure and epigenetics