Canada Likely to Label Plastic Ingredient ‘Toxic’
IAN AUSTEN / New York Times 16aug2008
[More on BPA by Paul Goettlich]
OTTAWA — The Canadian government is said to be ready to declare as toxic a chemical widely used in plastics for baby bottles, beverage and food containers as well as linings in food cans.
from Paul Goettlich:
A person with knowledge of the government’s chemical review program spoke on the condition he not be named because of a confidentiality agreement. He said the staff work to list the compound, called bisphenol-A, or B.P.A., as a toxic chemical was complete and was recently endorsed by a panel of outside scientists.
A public announcement by Health Canada may come as early as Wednesday but could be delayed until the end of May. Canada would be the first country to make a health finding against B.P.A., which has been shown to disrupt the hormonal systems of animals. The department’s decision was first reported in The Globe and Mail, a Toronto newspaper, on Tuesday.
Also on Tuesday, a draft report [See full report] from the United States Department of Health and Human Services’ National Toxicology Program endorsed a scientific panel’s finding that there was “some concern” about neural and behavioral changes in humans who consume B.P.A.
B.P.A. is widely used to make polycarbonate plastics, which are rigid and transparent like glass but very unlikely to shatter. Polycarbonates have many uses that pose no risk, like the cases of some iPod models. Because animal tests have shown that even small amounts of the chemical may cause changes in the body, however, researchers have focused on food- and drink-related applications of B.P.A., like the popular Nalgene brand beverage bottles.
“If the government issues a finding of toxic, no parent in their right mind will be using products made with this chemical,” said Rick Smith, the executive director of Environmental Defence, a Canadian group that has been campaigning against B.P.A. “We will be arguing strongly for a ban on the use of this chemical in food and beverage containers.”
The public and industry will have 60 days to comment on the designation once it is released, setting into motion a two-year process that could lead to a partial or complete ban on food-related uses of plastics made using B.P.A.
Alastair Sinclair, a spokesman for Health Canada, said, “When the minister has an announcement to make, he will make it.” Mr. Sinclair declined to answer any questions.
A spokeswoman for the Canadian Plastics Industry Association referred a request for comment to the American Chemistry Council in Arlington, Va. The council did not respond to interview requests.
Some scientists question the significance to humans of studies indicating that even very small amounts of B.P.A. can induce changes in animals. There is also some dispute about how much of the chemical is released by plastics.
Jack Bend, a professor of pathology at the University of Western Ontario in London and one of the Canadian government’s outside scientific advisers, declined to comment on what action Health Canada would take. But he said he was concerned about the widespread use of B.P.A.
“The first thing is that it’s an endocrine disrupter, there’s no question about that,” Professor Bend said, referring to the chemical’s impact on the hormonal system. “Should people that are exposed to these low levels of this chemical be outrageously concerned? I’d err on the side of not creating panic. We simply don’t know. But we should find out.”
Professor Bend added that the impact of B.P.A. on the development of human fetuses was worrisome. It may prove to cause damage in much the same way as early exposure to mercury, he said.
But Warren G. Foster, director of the center for reproductive care and reproductive biology at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, is more skeptical.
“In my experience working with bisphenol-a, it’s a relatively benign chemical,” said Professor Foster, who once headed the reproductive toxicology group at Health Canada. “There’s room here for a lot more research.”
He added that substances could be declared toxic under Canada’s chemical management system if they had the potential for adverse effects in animals but not humans.
“If I was a fish and there was bisphenol-a in the water, I’d be concerned,” he said. “If I was a fetus and my mother was using a plastic water bottle, I wouldn’t be bothered.”
While the Canadian plastics association referred a reporter to Professor Foster, he said that he had no ties to it or the chemical industry.
The draft report released in the United States is effectively a call for further research on the chemical.
Michael D. Shelby, the director of the toxicology program’s center for the evaluation of risks to human reproduction, said he wanted to see further confirmation that the test results could be repeated and more data about the long-term consequences of exposure to the chemical.
But he said that research strongly suggested that polycarbonate food and beverage containers and food cans were the main source of human exposure to B.P.A. When asked if people should stop using them, Dr. Shelby replied: “That becomes kind of a personal choice. These are certainly two things people can get around.”
In a statement, the American Chemistry Council said the draft report “affirms that there are no serious or high-level concerns for adverse effects of bisphenol-a on human reproduction and development.”
Plastics Chemical Spurs Concern Government Study,
In Reversal, Links BPA, Cancer Risk
ALICIA MUNDY / Wall Street Journal 16apr2008
WASHINGTON — A new draft report by the government links a chemical used in such common products as plastic baby bottles to potential long-term risks of breast and prostate cancer.
That assessment, which differs from the government's previous position, has prompted Congress to ask the Food and Drug Administration to reconsider whether the chemical, bisphenol A, or BPA, is safe.
So far, neither Congress nor the FDA have moved to ban BPA, which is used in hundred of products ranging from eyeglass lenses to plastic food containers to soda cans. The chemical industry has said repeatedly that low-level exposure to BPA is safe.
But the new report by the National Toxicology Center, part of the National Institutes of Health, says even low levels of exposure by infants can cause changes in their prostate and mammary gland tissue, which could ultimately lead to cancer. [See full report]
"This is what raises our concerns," said Dr. Michael Shelby, director of the National Institutes for Environmental Health Sciences, which oversaw the report.
Dr. Shelby says the data aren't definitive, but added that the report goes beyond two others from last year, both of which concluded the chemical was safe in low doses. Those reports were attacked by health and environmental advocacy groups and two powerful congressional committee chairmen because, among other potential conflicts of interest, they used data generated by the chemical industry. The outcry over the 2007 reports led the NIH center to launch a broad re-evaluation of its findings.
The American Chemistry Council drew the opposite conclusions from the draft report. "The report does go a little beyond [the previous study]," said Steven G. Hentges, executive director of the trade association's Polycarbonate/BPA Global Group, but the group said it doesn't demonstrate major health risks.
Dozens of recent studies suggest that repeated exposure over time to BPA can cause health problems. In January, the House Energy and Commerce Committee questioned its use in products for babies and infants, after a group of 38 scientists came forward with warnings about the potential harm.
At the time, the FDA announced that BPA was safe and came under fire from the committee and its chairman, Rep. John Dingell, a Michigan Democrat, for relying on chemical-industry experts for information.
On Tuesday, Mr. Dingell and the chairman of his panel's investigations subcommittee, Rep. Bart Stupak, another Michigan Democrat, said the new report and another from Canadian authorities "fly in the face of the FDA's determination that BPA is safe. "
An FDA spokesmen, Mike Herndon, said: "FDA is aware of the report but has not had the opportunity to review it."
If the FDA were to reconsider BPA's safety, at least in baby products, it would create a problem for the chemical industry, said Mr. Hentges, because of the chemical's widespread use. The industry and manufacturers could face litigation. A lawsuit was filed in California last year against leading makers of baby bottles, alleging the manufacturers failed to warn consumers about the potential dangers of BPA.
Several companies that sell baby formula were contacted by Mr. Dingell's committee in January. The committee's staff wrote Nestlé USA Inc., Hain-Celestial Group Inc., Mead Johnson & Co. and PBM Products, among others, asking whether they used BPA in their products and whether they tested for it.
Nestlé USA responded that the company tests for microbiological public-health hazards. But "we do not test the finished product for BPA," wrote Kurt Schmidt, the business head of Nestlé USA's infant-nutrition division. He added that the FDA "and other government regulatory agencies have concluded that the use of low levels of BPA in the linings of cans of heat-processed food poses no risk to consumers, including infants."
—Louise Radnofsky contributed to this article.
source: p. A216apr2008