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Bishpenol-A Tainted Bottles, Containers Pulled by Canadian Retailer

Dec 11, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP Bisphenol-A concerns have led Canada's largest outdoor goods chain to remove water bottles and food containers made of polycarbonate plastic from its shelves.  Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical that has been linked to cancer and reproductive problems in animals.  Last month, the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy and research organization in the US released a report stating that liquid formula from the nation's top baby formula makers is sold in cans lined with BPA.  While the formula makers acknowledged the presence of BPA, they claim it is not harmful; the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) agrees.  BPA is a fairly ubiquitous chemical used in polycarbonate plastic products, including baby bottles and metal can coatings, intended to protect the food inside from the can.  According to the FDA and the infant formula industry—which adheres to federal packaging guidelines—BPA is legal and safe and products containing BPA need not be pulled from shelves.

Others feel BPA is toxic and potentially harmful.  Meanwhile, Vancouver-based Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) became the first major Canadian retailer to stop selling products containing BPA over fears it can leach from plastic containers, saying inconclusive science and regulatory uncertainty surrounds BPA will wait for the Government of Canada provides guidance on its health risks.  MEC joins US-based Patagonia in dropping the products because of health concerns.  Norway and the European Union are also reviewing BPA; Japanese manufacturers stopped making products using polycarbonate plastic years ago.

BPA mimics the effects of the hormone estrogen in cells and some researchers and environmentalists revealed it can cause several types of cancer as well as developmental, neural, behavioral, and reproductive harm in animals.  Industry maintains BPA is not dangerous, citing studies from government agencies such as the FDA that food and beverage containers manufactured from polycarbonate do not pose a health risk to humans.

Besides hard-plastic water bottles, some baby bottles, and most major infant formula brands, BPA is used in the linings of some food cans according to a study co-released this week by Environmental Defence Canada and the Washington-based Environmental Working Group.  Environmental Defence Canada’s policy director states that study after study indicates BPA is toxic and there are safe, affordable, and available alternatives.  Canada's health department declined to comment before it releases preliminary results of a review next spring.  

Formula maker Nestle USA and Mead-Johnson, makers of Enfamil, don’t feel there is a risk and stand by their products.  Regulators say the trace amounts infants are exposed to won't hurt them.  An infant would have to ingest over 7,100 times more than the current daily dietary exposure to BPA before there would be the potential for an adverse toxic effect, according to the FDA, who is actively reviewing safety data on BPA, but sees no reason to ban it or restrict its use in formula cans.  Based a National Toxicology Program's Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction panel there's some risk; exposure to BPA causes neural and behavioral effects in children.

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