By Lyndsey Layton and Christopher Lee
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, April 19, 2008
Canada yesterday became the first country to ban a widely found chemical from use in baby bottles, spurring a leading Democrat in the U.S. Senate to call for legislation that would prohibit use of bisphenol A, or BPA, in a number of everyday consumer products.
"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," Tony Clement, the minister of health, said in a statement.
Clement said the action was based on a review of 150 worldwide studies. "It's pretty clear that the highest risk is for newborns and young infants," he said in a telephone interview.
Wal-Mart Canada began pulling all baby products containing BPA from its shelves this week, and the chain said it plans to stop selling products containing BPA in U.S. stores by next year. Playtex said it would offer free non-BPA bottles to parents and will stop using BPA in all products by year's end. Nalgene, the maker of reusable water bottles that are popular among athletes, said yesterday it would discontinue production of bottles made with the chemical and recall existing products already in its stores.
The move in Canada adds pressure on U.S. federal regulators to reexamine their position on BPA, which is suspected of causing breast and prostrate cancer, diabetes, hyperactivity and other serious disorders in laboratory animals. This week, a federal health panel in the United States for the first time expressed concerns about BPA.
BPA is used in production of polycarbonate plastic and epoxy linings to add strength and resilience to the products. U.S. manufacturers produce more than 6 billion pounds annually. While many uses pose no risk to consumers, some scientists have worried about the health effects of ingesting low doses of the chemical, which is used in the linings of canned foods as well as bottles and food storage products.
Yesterday, Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he will file a bill to ban BPA from all baby products as well as dental sealants and any bottle or container that holds food and drink. "It's better to be safe than sorry," Schumer said.
The chemical industry, which believes that the safety of BPA is well documented by scientific research, focused on the fact that Canada isn't banning all products containing BPA.
"The weight of scientific evidence, as assessed by Health Canada and other agencies around the world, provides reassurance that consumers can continue to safely use products made from bisphenol A," said Steven G. Hentges of the American Chemistry Council's Polycarbonate/BPA Global Group.
But Schumer said that given the many warnings about the dangers of BPA, "we cannot wait to act. If there is any serious risk at all posed by this chemical, it is simply unacceptable to allow Americans, especially vulnerable infants, to come into contact with it."
Industry groups tried yesterday to squelch what they call "scare" stories. "Based on the entire body of scientific evidence, and the findings of the [Food and Drug Administration] and numerous health authorities and researchers, consumers can continue to safely enjoy foods and beverages in the many forms of packaging provided, including those that contain BPA, without changing their purchasing or eating patterns," Robert Brackett, chief science officer for the Grocery Manufacturers Association, said in a statement.
The debate over BPA, which has simmered for a decade, grew intense this week after the National Toxicology Program, an office within the National Institutes of Health, acknowledged in a draft report that the chemical might cause cancer and other serious disorders. The chemical mimics estrogen in the human body, scientists say.
Although the office does not regulate BPA, its findings are used by other federal agencies such as the FDA and the Environmental Protection Agency, which set safe exposure limits for chemicals.