Bisphenol A, a harmful chemical commonly found in canned foods and cash register receipts, has been officially declared a toxic substance in Canada.
The designation, ending years of opposition by the chemical industry, was hailed as a victory by environmental groups in the country, and could set the stage for banning BPA in consumer products. The compound is widely found in plastic containers, reusable water bottles, the resin lining of soda, beer, fruit and vegetable cans, and in the lining of baby formula cans, from which it can enter food.
BPA is also used in toys and in the thermal paper stores use to print receipts, and is likely to stick to skin.
In the United States, BPA is a matter of growing concern because of its potential risk for causing cancer. The chemical is a suspected endocrine disruptor, an estrogen-like substance that affects the body's hormone balance. BPA has also been linked to developmental disorders in children, and to infertility, diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease. More than 90% of Americans carry traces in their bodies, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
Canada's new rule is a vindication for public interest groups stateside that have been sounding the alarm for more than a decade. Earlier this year, the Natural Resources Defense Council sued the Food and Drug Administration for failing to act on a citizen petition filed almost two years ago to ban BPA use in food packaging. The agency's stalling may be due to the intense business interests in keeping the chemical on the market, a spokeswoman for the group said at the time. Its manufacturers include Dow Chemical, Sunoco and Bayer.
Following the NRDC suit, the Environmental Working Group published a study spotlighting the direct exposure to BPA that most Americans get just by handling store receipts. CVS, KFC, and the U.S. Postal Service used BPA-contaminated receipts, the study found, while Starbucks, Target, and Bank of America ATMs were most likely to print theirs chemical-free.
And as a result of surging advocacy against BPA and other household chemicals, polycarbonate water bottles once popular with outdoors and fitness fans for their light, sturdy design have largely gone out of favor.
BPA was first approved by the FDA in the 1960s. The agency's own science board subcommittee suggested in 2008 that regulators review it again in light of the most recent scientific information. Other countries, including the U.K. and Belgium, are already considering BPA bans.
In the meantime, to reduce exposure to BPA, the National Toxicology Program recommends that consumers avoid microwaving food in plastic containers and using containers with the #7 on the bottom, reduce consumption of canned foods, and look for toys that are labeled BPA-free.
BPA declared toxic in Canada, could propel change in U.S.