Canada says chemical in plastic water bottles is unsafe

By: AP
By: AP

TORONTO (AP) -- An ubiquitous chemical found in hard plastic water bottles, DVDs, CDs and hundreds of other common items came under increased pressure Friday when Canada labeled it dangerous and said it may ban its use in baby bottles.

Health Canada made the announcement shortly after a U.S. company said it would stop selling hard-plastic Nalgene water bottles made with bisphenol A because of growing consumer concern over whether the chemical poses a health risk.

Health Canada is the first regulatory body in the world to call bisphenol A dangerous. It could be the first step in Canada banning the chemical altogether.

Earlier this week, the U.S. government's National Toxicology Program said that there is "some concern" about BPA from experiments on rats that linked the chemical to changes in behavior and the brain, early puberty and possibly precancerous changes in the prostate and breast. While such animal studies only provide "limited evidence" of risk, the draft report said a possible effect on humans "cannot be dismissed."

With more than 6 million pounds produced in the United States each year, bisphenol A is found in dental sealants, baby bottles, the liners of food cans, CDs and DVDs, eyeglasses and hundreds of household goods.

In Canada, Health Minister Tony Clement said a draft report on bisphenol A has found the chemical endangers people - particularly newborns and infants - and the environment.

Ottawa is giving the public 60 days to comment on the report and Clement said it will ban its use in baby bottles if no new relevant information comes forward.

"It is our intention to ban the importation, the sale and advertising," Clement said of its use in baby bottles. "Canada will be the first country in the world to take such action to limit exposures to bisphenol A."

Earlier this week, Wal-Mart Canada and other major retailers in Canada began removing BPA-based food-related products such as baby bottles and sipping cups from store shelves.

Highly durable and lightweight, resistant to stains and odors, and able to withstand extremes of hot and cold, screw-cap Nalgene bottles have been marketed as an environmentally responsible substitute for disposable water bottles.

Citing multiple studies in the United States, Europe and Japan, the chemicals industry maintains that polycarbonate bottles contain little BPA and leach traces considered too low to harm humans.

But critics point to an influx of animal studies linking low doses to a wide variety of ailments - from breast and prostate cancer, obesity and hyperactivity, to miscarriages and other reproductive failures.

"I think the writing's on the wall for this chemical," said Aaron Freeman, policy director of Toronto-based Environmental Defence Canada. "You've got major retailers with huge market clout pulling BPA products ... and you've got consumers in droves who are opting for alternatives. They're a bit late to the game, but they are responding to that consumer demand."

In Washington a key Democratic Senator said the chemical should be banned from all children's products and food-packing containers. Sen. Charles Schumer of New York blasted the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for signing off on bisphenol A, despite dozens of studies suggesting it may interfere with hormones and other biological functions.

"At best FDA gave Americans a false sense of comfort about a questionable substance. At worst, they put millions of Americans directly at risk," Schumer said.

Schumer plans to introduce a bill Monday banning the chemical and funding a public health campaign on its potential risks to infants. Other lawmakers are expected to propose similar measures.

An expert panel of 38 academic and government researchers who attended a U.S. National Institutes of Health-sponsored conference said in a study in August that "the potential for BPA to impact human health is a concern, and more research is clearly needed."

Nalge Nunc International, a division of Waltham, Mass.-based Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc., said Friday it will substitute its Nalgene Outdoor line of polycarbonate plastic containers with BPA-free alternatives.

"We continue to believe that Nalgene products containing BPA are safe for their intended use," Steven Silverman, general manager of the Nalgene business, said in a statement. "However, our customers indicated they preferred BPA-free alternatives and we acted in response to those concerns."

Nalge Nunc was founded in 1949 by Rochester chemist Emanuel Goldberg. The lab-equipment supplier's product evolved in the 1970s after rumors spread about its scientists taking hardy lab vessels on weekend outings. That led the company to form a water-bottle consumer unit targeting Boy Scouts, hikers and campers.

In 2000, a new sports line of Nalgene-brand bottles offered in red, blue and yellow hues quickly became the rage in high schools and on college campuses.

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Associated Press Writer Ben Dobbin in Rochester, N.Y. contributed to this report.

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