MARTIN MITTELSTAEDT

Health Canada is conducting studies to try to find out how much bisphenol A is leaking out of polycarbonate baby bottles and infant formula cans.
The action is part of the agency’s effort to assess the safety of BPA, a widely used ingredient in many types of plastic, the epoxy resins lining the insides of most tin cans, and many other consumer products. The chemical is under review because it mimics estrogen, and a growing body of research has linked low-level exposures, particularly during infancy and fetal development, to cancers and other health conditions associated with sex hormone imbalances.
Health Canada said in a written statement to The Globe and Mail that it is trying to determine the “migration rates of BPA” out of the products, to see whether the amounts involved pose a risk to infants.
Not much is known about the levels of BPA leaching from baby bottles and inadvertently slipping into infant formula from can linings. Last year, U.S. environmental groups, in two separate small-scale tests, found the compound in formula and leaking from bottles into the fluids they held.
Concern over the safety of bisphenol A has recently led several Canadian retailers to pull polycarbonate water bottles from their shelves, pending the results of Health Canada’s review, which are expected in May.
Earlier this week in the United States, a congressional committee also announced that it would investigate the use of BPA in baby formula, and sent letters to seven major manufacturers asking for details on whether they use the chemical in their packaging and test for it in their infant food.
Among the companies were Nestlé USA Inc. and Mead Johnson. Both companies have previously dismissed concerns about BPA because the chemical is licensed for use in consumer products in both Canada and the U.S.
But Canadian federal authorities are currently conducting a review of BPA, part of a major program to assess the safety of chemicals in use before the country adopted its first pollution laws in the 1980s and exempted from detailed evaluations at the time.
Under the review, about 200 chemicals are being analyzed in batches of about 15 every few months for their risks to either human health or the environment.
The federal government is reporting the results of the first batch of chemicals in today’s Canada Gazette. Environmentalists have been awaiting the results because they might give an indication of how aggressively the government intends to move against suspect chemicals, including listing them as toxic under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, a step that allows regulators to develop rules to curb or eliminate their use.
“It’s good news. The chemicals we were looking to be listed as toxic have in fact been listed,” said Rick Smith, executive director of Environmental Defence, a Toronto-based organization, commenting on the first batch.
The results were posted on a federal website late yesterday afternoon. Environmental Defence said seven of the chemicals in the first batch either caused cancer or were suspected carcinogens.
Among the chemicals the government decided to take action against by listing them as toxic is naphthalene, used in mothballs, fragrances and perfumes, and propylene oxide, used in cosmetics, food additives and deodorizers.