MARTIN MITTELSTAEDT
February 20, 2008
ENVIRONMENT REPORTER — Health Canada says its consumer product safety division was “in error” when it sent a letter to a retailer dismissing as unfounded concerns over the safety of polycarbonate plastic baby bottles containing bisphenol A, an estrogen-mimicking chemical.
The letter, sent last month and posted at several Toronto-area stores specializing in baby products, said “all initial information indicates that bisphenol A does not present a risk to Canadian children” and that there is “no evidence” to conclude that the use of the plastic in baby bottles is harmful.
The letter was issued even though another section of Health Canada is reviewing the safety of BPA and has yet to issue an assessment.
“This letter was sent in error as it references scientific findings that may not be the most recent,” Health Canada said in an e-mail statement to The Globe and Mail.
It didn’t elaborate on what findings were outdated, but said, “Health Canada is aware of the concerns surrounding bisphenol A. … We are currently finalizing our studies on bisphenol A leaching from baby bottles as well as [our] review of the risks posed from bisphenol A and expect to publish the results of our review no later than May, 2008.”
Many parents are not waiting for Health Canada to complete its review, and have been discarding polycarbonate plastic baby bottles in favour of alternatives, such as glass or specially designed plastics that don’t use the chemical.
Polycarbonate bottles are a “very hard sell” at the moment, says Scott Schmidt, owner of Belly Bumps and Babies in Richmond Hill, Ont. ” I can’t sell them. They’re 50 per cent off. Nobody will buy them.”
The about-face on the letter is likely to increase confusion about BPA, which is also found in the plastic of office water-cooler-style jugs and compact discs, and the epoxy resins lining tin cans, among other products.
“A number of retailers have got this letter and a lot of consumers are going to be looking at this information and it’s erroneous,” said Rick Smith, executive director of Environmental Defence, a group that is seeking a ban on the use of the plastic in food and beverage containers.
The letter was a response to a query from Baby Land, a retailer in Vaughan, Ont., which didn’t respond to a request for comment, but was distributed to other Toronto-area stores as well.
Bisphenol A is the subject of intense scientific and regulatory controversy over whether small exposures of the kind people inadvertently receive from consumer products are dangerous.
Some researchers fear the chemical is interfering with normal estrogen processes and could be a factor behind such trends as increased breast cancer rates and declining sperm counts.
Although only trace amounts of BPA leach out of bottles or canned foods, typically in the low parts per billion, these scientists worry about even this minute exposure, because natural hormones circulate in concentrations of only about a part per trillion, or a thousand times less.
Independent research has found such worrisome effects as enlarged prostates, skewed egg development, and increased mammary gland tissue growth in test animals exposed to low doses of BPA. The most damaging time for exposures appears to be during fetal development and early neonatal life.
Industry-funded testing, however, has been unable to confirm these findings, and to date, regulatory bodies in other countries have sided with company-supported results indicating the chemical is safe.