Canada calls BPA a risk for infants

Chemical is used in baby bottles, DVDs, can linings

April 19, 2008|By David Kohn | David Kohn,Sun reporter

While an American manufacturer of popular plastic water bottles announced it would remove bisphenol A from its products, the Canadian ministry of health said yesterday that the chemical could pose a serious health risk for infants.

The Canadian agency said it will likely ban BPA from baby bottles.

Bisphenol A is found in millions of plastic products, including can linings, DVDs and plastic bottles. It has come under increasing fire in recent months; some researchers say the chemical can cause a wide range of health problems, including breast and prostate cancer, infertility, diabetes and brain damage.

Earlier this week, the U.S. government's National Toxicology Program (NTP) announced that the chemical may cause cancer and other health and behavior problems. Two days later, retail giant Wal-Mart said it would phase out sales of baby bottles containing bisphenol A in its U.S. and Canadian stores.

Nalge Nunc International, a division of Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc. of Waltham, Mass., said it will phase out the use of BPA in its Nalgene water bottles within months. The bottles have been marketed as a green alternative to disposable plastic water bottles.

"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."

Melissa Francis, manager of the L.L. Bean store in Columbia, said that many customers who buy water bottles express concern about the chemical. She said she has seen an increase in customers who buy brands that don't contain BPA, such as Sigg and Camelback.

"Customers are more aware and are looking for alternatives," she said. "I've seen an uptick in people who ask about the chemical, especially [when buying bottles] for their kids."

Researchers and critics of the chemical said that in light of the recent moves, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration should do more to limit exposure to BPA. Many states, including Maryland and California, have considered bills to limit BPA in some products, but none has enacted legislation so far.

The Canadian agency, Health Canada, is the world's first regulatory body to call bisphenol A dangerous. The agency said it will continue examining the chemical and may decide to ban it completely.

The Canadian agency is giving the public - and industry - 60 days to comment on its report. Health Minister Tony Clement said the agency will ban BPA in baby bottles if no new information appears.

"We have put the onus on industry to tell us why we shouldn't ban it [from baby bottles]," Clement said. "We have to get the BPA out of baby bottles."

Bisphenol A is ubiquitous: More than 6 million pounds is produced annually in the United States, and the industry continues to assert that the chemical is safe.

"We do not think that bans are warranted by the science," said Steven G. Hentges, who is in charge of BPA issues for the American Chemistry Council, the industry's trade group.

Some critics say the FDA should do more. "They haven't gone far enough," said Pete Myers, chief scientist for Environmental Health Sciences, a nonprofit that raises awareness of chemical risks. He has been raising alarms about the chemical since the early 1990s.

"There's too much exposure," he said. "The biggest source of exposure is canned food. Japan has dramatically reduced levels that get into food from cans. We can do that too."

In Washington, Democratic Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York said the chemical should be banned from children's products and food-packing containers. "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 said he will introduce a bill Monday that would ban the chemical and fund a public health campaign to warn of its potential risks to infants. Other lawmakers are expected to propose similar measures.

Via e-mail yesterday, FDA spokesman Michael Herndon said the agency had formed a task force earlier this week that "will decide whether FDA's current approach to BPA needs to be changed." He said the group would look at the NTP report as well as the Canadian government decision.

david.kohn@baltsun.com

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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