Recently, the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) made headlines when it found bisphenol A (BPA) in athletic clothing from a number of well-known brands. But how is BPA, best known as the toxic plastic additive found in pre-circa-2010 baby bottles, ending up in clothing? And should we be alarmed?

Toxic BPA could be in your favourite “soft pants”

Athletic clothes, including sports bras, leggings, shorts and shirts, are often made from polyester-based fabrics. Since polyester is a synthetic material made from plastic, it isn’t surprising that we’re finding a toxic plastic additive in our stretchy pants. According to the Center for Environmental Health, some of the clothing items they tested contained BPA levels up to 40 times what California law considers “safe”.

Meanwhile, Canada doesn’t have a “safe” exposure limit for BPA. Its action on BPA has been limited to eliminating the chemical from baby bottles — a necessary first step, but far from the comprehensive measures needed to protect everyone living in Canada from BPA exposure.

People living in Canada are exposed to toxic BPA every day

BPA is widely known for its endocrine or hormone-disrupting effects and is linked to a wide range of health issues including diabetes, obesity, ADHD in children and hormone-based cancers such as breast and prostate cancer. The primary route of exposure is through ingestion, but studies have found the chemical can also be absorbed through the skin.

BPA is found in various consumer products beyond sports bras and vintage baby bottles. It can also be present in storage containers for foods and beverages, the plastic lining in food and beverage cans, and thermal paper used for receipts and grocery stickers, prescription labels, airline and lottery tickets. Additionally, products that may not contain BPA itself often contain other chemicals in the same class, such as bisphenol-S (BPS) and bisphenol-F (BPF), which have similar hormone-disrupting properties.

We need comprehensive action on toxics

Until very recently, the federal government has used the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA), its main toxics law, to target specific chemicals in specific uses. For instance, it specifically banned BPA in baby bottles. However, just last month, it proposed a more comprehensive approach to managing another toxic chemical commonly found in consumer products.

Health Canada has proposed listing the entire class (group) of per – and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) — containing more than 4000 chemicals — as toxic under CEPA. This is a significant development and a welcome change from previous regulatory approaches.

By declaring the whole class toxic, the federal government would gain the authority to restrict the use of PFAS chemicals in various applications. But so far, Canada’s proposed action focuses only on PFAS-laden firefighting foams — which is only one of many sources of PFAS exposure. Limiting regulatory action to a single source gives other sectors a free pass to pollute. The federal government needs to take a more comprehensive approach to tackling PFAS, and other toxic chemicals, including bisphenols.

We shouldn’t have to worry about being exposed to toxics through the products we use. Product manufacturers, importers and retailers need to step up and ensure their products are safe. The government needs to comprehensively deal with all hidden hazardous classes of chemicals that show up in our stuff and our bodies. 

Tell the federal government that you support their efforts to address problematic classes of chemicals, and urge them to take action on toxic products. 

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