OTTAWA — Baby bottles laden with bisphenol A could be banned from store shelves by autumn after the federal government announced plans to limit use of the controversial chemical.
A draft report by Health Canada determined the chemical, found in such plastic products as baby and reusable hard plastic drink and food containers, can endanger infants and the environment.
Health Minister Tony Clement said Friday the government will take the “prudent” step of banning importation, sale and advertising of polycarbonate baby bottles should no compelling information come out to indicate BPA is significantly less dangerous than currently believed.
“Most Canadians need not be concerned,” he said. “This is because in most instances negative health effects occur at levels much greater than those we are exposed to in Canada.
“But this is not the case for newborns and infants. We have concluded that early development is sensitive to the effects of the bisphenol A.”
Clement says current standards limiting BPA content in baby bottles should be raised.
“We have concluded that is better to be safe than sorry,” the minister said.
The chemical, which studies show acts like the female hormone estrogen, has been linked to cancer and infertility in animals. Clement says Canada will be the first country in the world to limit the use of BPA.
But the draft report’s finding won’t mean that BPA will be immediately banned or restricted.
Ottawa is giving the public 60 days to comment on the report, then the government will have until October to issue a final report detailing control measures.
At that point, Clement can impose restrictions on the use of BPA.
But Health Canada and Environment Canada officials told reporters at a technical briefing that, in the best scenario, baby bottles containing BPA will be gone from store shelves in 12 to 15 months.
Rick Smith, executive director of Environmental Defence, an advocacy group that has long lobbied to have BPA deemed a toxic agent, lauded the government’s announcement.
“This sends a clear message to the plastics industry that it needs to start reformulating its products,” he said.
“We’ve already seen in the last few days consumers starting to make some different choices.”
Reports earlier this week suggested the government would impose an all-out ban on the contentious chemical, prompting several major Canadian retailers to stop selling products containing BPA.
Sears Canada, Rexall Pharmacies, London Drugs and Home Depot Canada are the latest companies to stop selling products containing BPA.
They join the Forzani Group, Canada’s largest sporting goods retailer; Hudson’s Bay Co., which includes the Bay and Zellers stores; and Canadian Tire Corp. Ltd. in ridding their stores of products made with BPA.
HBC spokeswoman Hillary Marshall said consumer demand forced the company to drop all baby bottles containing BPA from its stores.
“That’s been the primary area of concern for most of our customers,” she said. “It’s really been a case in which consumers are really guiding the market, specifically for baby products.”
And the U.S. maker of hard-plastic Nalgene water bottles said Friday it will substitute its line of polycarbonate plastic containers with BPA-free alternatives.
Last year, Mountain Equipment Co-op removed plastic bottles containing BPA from its shelves. Lululemon Athletics Inc. has said all new bottles arriving in its stores this year will be free of the chemical.
NDP health critic Judy Wasylycia-Leis said Clement should have bumped up the BPA announcement when the leaked report began affecting the marketplace.
“I think the minute the news was out earlier this week about the government considering including this as a toxic substance on the list of dangerous chemicals, he should have immediately acted,” she said.
“There is actual chaos out on the marketplace with retailers wondering what to do.”
BPA has been the material of choice in baby bottles and reusable drink bottles for decades because it is lightweight, shatter-resistant and transparent. Other forms of the substance are also used to line cans.
It is also found in sports gear like hockey helmets, electronic equipment, automobiles and CDs and DVDs. “In these products it is safe,” Clement declared.
Concerns have been raised, however, that BPA in polycarbonate products and epoxy linings can migrate into food and beverages.