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Questions and Answers for Action on Bisphenol A Under the Chemicals Management Plan

  1. What is Bisphenol A and what are its principal uses?
  2. Why did the Government study bisphenol A?
  3. What are the potentially harmful effects of bisphenol A?
  4. What are the results of the Government of Canada's assessment for bisphenol A?
  5. How are newborns and infants exposed to bisphenol A?
  6. If the lining on infant formula cans contain bisphenol A, should I be concerned about giving infant formula to my baby?
  7. If polycarbonate baby bottles contain bisphenol A, should I stop using them?
  8. If polycarbonate baby bottles pose less risk as long as you don't add boiling water, why are you banning them?
  9. How do I recognize which baby bottles are made from polycarbonate with bisphenol A?
  10. Do alternatives to polycarbonate baby bottles exist? Are they safe?
  11. Should I be concerned about polycarbonate bottles, tableware and food containers?
  12. Should consumers avoid canned foods and drinks?
  13. Shouldn't we just throw out these products containing bisphenol A if they are so hazardous?
  14. What is the Government doing to protect Canadians from bisphenol A?
  15. What research is the Government conducting on bisphenol A?
  16. When can we expect the results from this research to be made public?
  17. What advice do you have for pregnant/breastfeeding mothers?
  18. How can the Government recommend Canadians continue using products that contain a substance you have deemed to be toxic?
  19. If bisphenol A is found in fish, are they safe to eat?
  20. The U.S. FDA and European Food Safety Authority just announced that BPA is safe. Why is Canada's assessment different?
  21. Some plastic food containers - like ketchup, mayonnaise and salad dressing bottles - have the recycling #7 on the bottom. Does this mean they contain bisphenol A?

1. What is Bisphenol A and what are its principal uses?

Bisphenol A (BPA) is an industrial chemical used to make a hard plastic called polycarbonate and to make epoxy resins.

Polycarbonate is used in a number of household items, including baby bottles, reuseable water bottles, pitchers, water carboys, tableware and storage containers.

Epoxy resins are used as a protective coating in metal-based food and beverage cans.

It serves an important safety function in the composition of the thin coating applied on the interior surface of the can. The coating prevents corrosion of the can and contamination of food and beverages with dissolved metals. It also plays an important role in preserving the quality and safety of the canned food.

Plastics and resins made from bisphenol A can also be used in a range of other products including:

  • medical devices (e.g. blood oxygenators, incubators, and respiratory devices);
  • dental sealants;
  • sporting and safety equipment (e.g. hockey helmets);
  • electronics (e.g. alarm devices, mobile phone housings, and computers); and
  • automotive parts (e.g. headlights, bumpers, and inside lights).

Bisphenol A is not found naturally in the environment.

2. Why did the Government study bisphenol A?

Bisphenol A, along with approximately 200 other chemicals, was identified as a high priority under the Government's Chemicals Management Plan. Specifically,. Bisphenol A was identified as a chemical that could affect reproduction. Health Canada analyzed the scientific literature, as well as recent assessments by other organizations, and confirmed that the potential health effects were reproductive and developmental, and these health effects were the focus of the screening assessment.

The final risk assessment confirms exposure levels are below those that could cause health effects; however, due to the uncertainty raised in some studies relating to the potential effects of low levels of bisphenol A, the Government of Canada is taking action to enhance the protection of newborns and infants.

3. What are the potentially harmful effects of bisphenol A?

Based on the results of our assessment, some laboratory studies on animals suggest that bisphenol A at low levels of exposure can affect neural development and behaviour when experimental animals are exposed in very early life. However, there is some uncertainty in interpreting how these findings might be relevant to human health.

Health Canada scientists do not believe a case has been demonstrated to link breast and prostate cancer, diabetes or obesity and bisphenol A; however, Health Canada supports the need for additional research in these areas. Health Canada scientists will continue to evaluate all new scientific evidence as it emerges from the domestic and international scientific community.

4. What are the results of the Government of Canada's assessment for bisphenol A?

This final risk assessment confirms earlier results that indicate the general public need not be concerned. The focus of Health Canada's assessment of bisphenol A was on newborns and infants up to 18 months of age. The final risk assessment confirms exposure levels are below those that could cause health effects; however, due to the uncertainty raised in some studies relating to the potential effects of low levels of bisphenol A, the Government of Canada is taking action to enhance the protection of newborns and infants.

Environment Canada has identified concerns about the levels of bisphenol-A that are being released to the environment because the assessment shows that there is the potential for long-term adverse effects to organisms from bisphenol-A. In addition, these effects can occur at levels that are currently found in the environment close to point sources, such as municipal wastewater treatment plants.

The Government is looking at ways to manage bisphenol A to keep the levels of bisphenol A being released to the environment at safe concentrations for fish and other aquatic life.

5. How are newborns and infants exposed to bisphenol A?

The main sources of exposure for newborns and infants appear to be:

  1. a result of bisphenol A migrating into liquid infant formula from infant formula cans; and
  2. from bisphenol A migrating into hot and boiling water placed in polycarbonate baby bottles, which when cooled, is used to mix with powdered formula, or given directly to the infant.

6. If the lining on infant formula cans contain bisphenol A, should I be concerned about giving infant formula to my baby?

Health Canada does not recommend changes to dietary habits and encourages pregnant/breastfeeding mothers to follow the recommendations for a healthy diet in Eating Well with Canada's Food Guide, and eat a variety of food including fresh, frozen, canned and dried as suggested in the Guide.

Health Canada continues to recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, followed by the gradual introduction of other nutritious foods in addition to breastfeeding, which should continue up to two years of age or more.

If breastfeeding is not chosen, from a nutritional perspective, canned infant formula would be considered the next best choice. Parents and caregivers should refer to the bisphenol A fact sheet for more information on the correct use of polycarbonate baby bottles.

The Government of Canada will continue to ensure that levels of BPA in infant formula are kept at the lowest levels achievable by carefully reviewing pre-market submissions of infant formula and continuing to work with the food packaging industry to reduce levels of BPA in infant formula to the lowest levels possible. We will also evaluate alternatives to BPA for infant formula can linings on a priority basis.

7. If polycarbonate baby bottles contain bisphenol A, should I stop using them?

Health Canada is moving to ban the importation, sale and advertising of polycarbonate baby bottles and recommends that readily available alternatives be used. However, if you as a parent or caregiver choose to  continue to use polycarbonate baby bottles, there are steps you can take to reduce your baby's exposure to bisphenol A.

Do not put very hot/boiling water in baby bottles, as very hot water causes bisphenol A to migrate out of the bottle at a much higher rate. Studies suggest that migration of bisphenol A into the contents of baby bottles is much lower when liquids put into the bottle are not at elevated temperatures.

Water should be boiled and allowed to cool to lukewarm in a non-polycarbonate container before transferring to baby bottles. This advice is consistent with proper instructions for the preparation of infant formula.

These bottles can be sterilized according to instructions on infant formula labels and can be cleaned in the dishwasher. The bottles should be allowed to cool before placing infant formula into them.

Baby bottles should not be heated in the microwave as the liquid may heat unevenly and can cause burns to your infant when consumed.

8. If polycarbonate baby bottles pose less risk as long as you don't add boiling water, why are you banning them?

Alternatives to polycarbonate baby bottles are readily available, thus it is a prudent measure to continue to reduce risk to this vulnerable group.

9. How do I recognize which baby bottles are made from polycarbonate with bisphenol A?

Polycarbonate is a clear, hard plastic, which can be coloured. It typically has the number 7 in the centre of the recycling symbol, which is found on the bottom of the bottle. The number 7 is a broad category, therefore, you can only be sure it is polycarbonate if the number 7 also has a PC beside it. If the bottle does not have a recycling symbol, there is no certain means of identifying whether or not it is polycarbonate without contacting the manufacturer.

10. Do alternatives to polycarbonate baby bottles exist?  Are they safe?

Several alternatives to polycarbonate baby bottles exist. Laboratory tests conducted by Health Canada on alternative plastic bottles currently available on the market did not show the presence of any significant levels of bisphenol A migrating into bottle contents. Glass baby bottles are also readily available.

11. Should I be concerned about polycarbonate bottles, tableware and food containers?

No, you should not be concerned about using these products.

If you are concerned about migration into food as a result of heating in these containers, alternatives, such as those made of glass, are readily available.

12. Should consumers avoid canned foods and drinks?

No. The current scientific evidence indicates that the general public need not be concerned as levels of BPA present in food do not pose a health risk. Epoxy resin can linings containing bisphenol A provide an important safety function by protecting the quality of food and beverages (i.e., prevents corrosion of the can material and prevents reactions between the food and the can material).

13. Shouldn't we just throw out these products containing bisphenol A if they are so hazardous?

There is no need to throw them out. However, it is important to use them properly to minimize exposure to bisphenol A. If you are concerned, alternatives to polycarbonate products are available.

14. What is the Government doing to protect Canadians from bisphenol A?

Health Canada's screening assessment of bisphenol A primarily focused on its impacts on newborns and infants up to 18 months of age; however, health risks for Canadians of all ages were considered.

It was determined that the main sources of exposure for newborns and infants are through the use of polycarbonate baby bottles when they are exposed to high temperatures and the migration of bisphenol A from cans into infant formula. The scientists concluded in this assessment that bisphenol A exposure to newborns and infants is below levels that cause effects; however, due to the uncertainty raised in some studies relating to the potential effects of low levels of bisphenol A, the Government of Canada is taking action to enhance the protection of infants and young children.

First, we are immediately providing practical advice to parents and caregivers on how to reduce infant and newborns' exposure to bisphenol A.

Second, we are moving to ban the importation, sale and advertising of polycarbonate baby bottles.
Third, we are working to develop and implement codes of practice to reduce levels of bisphenol A in infant formula as low as reasonably achievable.

Fourth, we will support industry in the evaluation of replacement options for bisphenol A in infant formula.

Fifth, we will develop stringent migration targets for bisphenol A in infant formula.

And sixth, we will continue to scrutinize pre-market submissions of food packaging applications to enable the lowest levels of BPA in infant formula.

To address environmental concerns, Environment Canada is taking early action on bisphenol A because the final assessment shows that we need to limit the amount of this substance that is entering the environment.

As a precautionary measure to address the environmental concerns, Environment Canada is considering a regulation that would set a limit for the maximum concentration of bisphenol A that can be released in effluent to the environment. The regulation would also require facilities using bisphenol A to implement best management practices to ensure that it is handled and disposed of safely. These actions will keep the levels of bisphenol A being released to the environment at safe concentrations for fish and other aquatic life.

Environment Canada will work with municipal and provincial counterparts to monitor bisphenol A and is currently studying landfills to increase our understanding of trends and how the life cycle of products containing bisphenol A affect the environment.

There are still many unanswered questions about bisphenol A. Therefore, the Government will begin an aggressive research plan focussed on mothers, the fetus, newborns and infants as well as other areas of potential harmful effects, such as prostate/breast cancer, to better define sources of exposure and key points in time when exposures may cause effects. As the Chemicals Management Plan relies on strong stewardship from industry, we will also be working with industry, and others, to help us fill these gaps.

15. What research is the Government conducting on bisphenol A?

The Maternal-Infant Research on Environmental Chemicals study (MIREC) will provide information on the levels of environmental chemicals in the bodies of pregnant women and their babies, including levels of BPA in breast milk.

The Canadian Health Measures Survey is examining levels of chemicals, including BPA, in blood and urine of 5,000 Canadians aged six to 79. This survey will be expanded in the next cycle to include children under the age of six.

The Canadian House Dust Study is a four-phase study looking at the levels of chemicals, including bisphenol A, in the house dust of randomly-selected Canadian homes, to establish a baseline for levels that can be considered typical in the average Canadian home.

BPA is being added to the list of chemicals to be monitored regularly as part of the Canadian Total Diet Survey as of the 2009 cycle in order to refine exposure estimates to bisphenol A from all pre-packaged food sources, including canned foods.

Data on BPA occurrence in food sources from a variety of canned and bottled foods for all age groups is being collected.

A survey to gather information on all currently licensed Class II, III and IV medical devices that contain BPA and that come into contact with the patient or the patient's bodily fluids will be sent out to Medical Device Manufacturers in the fall of 2008.

Health Canada is also studying some of the key information gaps identified in the screening assessment, including exposure to the fetus, metabolism of BPA and the mechanisms by which BPA may cause effects at low levels of exposure.

16. When can we expect the results from this research to be made public?

The results of the studies will be made public when they have been completed and undergone review. The dates will vary as the studies end in different years.

17. What advice do you have for pregnant/breastfeeding mothers?

Health Canada does not recommend changes to dietary habits and encourages pregnant/breastfeeding mothers to follow the recommendations for a healthy diet in Eating Well with Canada's Food Guide, and eat a variety of food including fresh, frozen, canned and dried as suggested in the Guide.

Health Canada continues to recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, followed by the gradual introduction of other nutritious foods in addition to breastfeeding, which should continue up to two years of age or more

If breastfeeding is not chosen, from a nutritional perspective, canned infant formula would be considered the next best choice. Parents and caregivers should refer to the bisphenol A fact sheet for more information on the correct use of polycarbonate baby bottles.

If you have concerns about bisphenol A you may wish to take the following precautionary measures to reduce your exposure:

  • Use non-polycarbonate plastic containers to heat food or liquids, or use alternatives to plastic such as glass, ceramic or stainless steel containers;
  • Let boiling water cool before pouring into polycarbonate plastic containers when using them to prepare, or store, either food or drink; and
  • Remove food from the can before heating.

18. How can the Government recommend Canadians continue using products that contain a substance you have deemed to be toxic?

The term "toxic" is being used in the context of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act 1999. It indicates that the Government has determined that there are some situations in which the substance is, or may be, harmful to health and/or the environment. In the case of bisphenol A, Health Canada and Environment Canada scientists have identified situations in the assessment which are a cause for concern, and those situations are, therefore, the basis for using the term "toxic." By declaring the chemical "toxic" under the Act, the Ministers of Health and Environment then have the authority to implement measures, such as regulations, to manage the risks posed.

19. If bisphenol A is found in fish, are they safe to eat?

A few European studies reported levels of bisphenol A found in fish. There are no data on levels of BPA in fish available for sale in Canada. However, considering the highest levels of BPA reported in fish by these European studies, Health Canada has concluded that exposure from fish sources does not represent a health risk.

BPA is being added to the list of chemicals to be monitored regularly as part of the Canadian Total Diet Survey as of the 2009 cycle in order to refine exposure estimates to bisphenol A in food.

20. The U.S. FDA and European Food Safety Authority just announced that BPA is safe. Why is Canada's assessment different?

Other juridictions have reviewed the same information as Canada, and some have identified concern for neuro-behavioural effects in newborns and infants. However, Canada is the first country to take action as a result of that information.

21. Some plastic food containers - like ketchup, mayonnaise and salad dressing bottles - have the recycling #7 on the bottom. Does this mean they contain bisphenol A?

No, these types of soft squeezable bottles are not made from polycarbonate and do not contain bisphenol A. Only hard and clear plastic bottles are made from polycarbonate. As a general rule, if you can easily squeeze the bottle, it is not made from polycarbonate plastic and does not contain bishpenol A.

The #7 recycling symbol on the bottom of these plastic containers stands for "other" plastics and is a catch-all description for plastics or combinations of plastics that are not covered by the recycling symbols #1 to #6. The #7 symbol does not always mean the bottle contains bisphenol A. You can only be sure a bottle is polycarbonate if it is made from a hard and clear plastic, and it has the letters "PC" shown near the recycling symbol. If the container does not have a recycling symbol with the letters "PC", the only way to be certain whether it contains bisphenol A or not is to contact the manufacturer.