Fulfilling a two-year promise, the Canadian government will designate bisphenol-A, or BPA, as a toxic substance, likely within the next 8 to 10 weeks.
In 2008, Canada became the first country to complete a comprehensive human and environmental risk assessment of BPA, in consultation with industry and other stakeholders, and to announce it would take regulatory action to reduce the chemical’s presence.
As preliminary data from that assessment was released, Canadian health officials said that the endocrine-disrupting chemical posed the greatest risk to newborns and infants up to 18 months of age. The main source for infant exposure to BPA was reported to be through baby bottles containing the chemical as an interior lining and the migration of BPA from cans into infant formula.
An April 2008 news release from Health Canada officials announced the government’s intention to ban the sale, import, and advertising of polycarbonate baby bottles containing BPA. In a prepared statement, former Minister of Health Tony Clement said, “We have immediately taken action on bisphenol A, because we believe it is our responsibility to ensure families, Canadians and our environment are not exposed to a potentially harmful chemical.”
The final assessment report, issued jointly by Health Canada and Environment Canada in October 2008, confirmed the findings that BPA may leach from certain food and beverage containers with internal epoxy resin coatings and may migrate from repeat-use containers, thereby harming human health by disrupting normal behavioral and neurological functions and altering gene activity.
The report concluded that bisphenol-A should be “considered as a substance that may be entering the environment in a quantity or concentration or under conditions that constitute or may constitute a danger in Canada to human life or health.”
Immediately after the report was published, the Canadian Government drafted regulations to enforce a ban on baby bottles containing BPA.
But the first step toward banning the chemical was for Health Canada to deem it a “dangerous substance” and list it on the country’s the toxic substances list under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. However, no action was taken to designate BPA as a listed toxic substance until now, due to a formal notice of objection brought by the American Chemical Council (ACC) in 2009.
ACC, which maintains that BPA does not pose a significant risk to human health, demanded that the Canadian government establish a board of review to reconsider the proposed toxic listing of BPA. In a letter to Environment Canada, executive director of ACC Steven Hentges said permitting BPA to be designated as a toxic substance would not be “based on the best available data and scientific knowledge.”
Despite the ACC’s efforts to challenge the designation, Canadian Minister of the Environment, Jim Prentice, rejected the industry group’s demand. In a July 2010 response, Prentice stated “I am of the view that your notice does not bring forth any new scientific data or information.”
After the 2-year delay, Canada is now poised to include BPA on its toxic substances list by November.
Environmental Defence executive director Rick Smith, a major supporter of the campaign to designate BPA as a toxic substance, told The Vancouver Sun that the recent announcement to finalize the designation is “important progress. Kudos to the federal government for moving this file forward and shame on the industry for its endless stalling tactics. We look forward to seeing BPA legally designated as ‘toxic’ as soon as possible.”
In the United States, the controversy over BPA goes on. Several major retailers, including Sears, CVS, Wal-Mart and Whole Foods, have pledged to stop selling baby bottles made with BPA and a handful of states now bar it in products made for children. But a proposal to include a BPA ban in the Food Safety Bill now before the Senate touched off a partisan fight and was withdrawn.