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Bisphenol A remains off toxic list as Ottawa reviews mystery complainant's objection

Two years after the federal government announced with great fanfare that it would designate bisphenol A as a toxic substance, the plastic-making chemical still isn't on the list and there is no indication when it will be.

The reason for the delay, The Globe and Mail has learned, is that an entity filed a formal notice of objection to the listing last summer. The government won't identify the entity or reveal the reasons for the objection.

"The notice of objection is under consideration," the department said in an e-mailed statement. "A final order to add bisphenol A to the list of toxic substances … has not yet been published."

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The estrogen-like chemical is used to produce everything from CDs to the liners of nearly all tin cans, and Canada - amid scientific disputes over its impact on people's health and the environment - was the first country in the world to propose declaring it a toxic substance.

That designation could have international ramifications because both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration have recently announced that they are conducting reviews on the safety of the chemical.

The government's BPA decision has been opposed by the American Chemistry Council, an Arlington, Va.-based association that represents makers of the material and maintains that it poses no health or environmental risks.

Although the council says it isn't aware of the specific objection the Canadian government is reviewing, it has told Ottawa there is no need to take action against the chemical. "We have consistently presented our view, based on the weight of scientific evidence, that BPA does not meet the requirements to be listed as a toxic substance in Canada," said spokesman Steve Hentges.

But others are worried about the government's secrecy over the objection. "Frankly, unless the objector has something to hide, they shouldn't mind that such information is divulged publicly," said Rick Smith, executive director of Environmental Defence, an advocacy group that has lobbied for a ban on BPA.

Bisphenol A is one of the world's largest-volume synthetic chemicals, and while it isn't manufactured in Canada, it is imported to make plastic and is included in many finished imported products. The chemical is a building block for epoxy resins and for polycarbonate, the shatter-resistant plastic used to make office water-cooler jugs and sports helmets, among other products.

Many researchers are concerned about BPA because it is a gender-bending chemical, with a shape able to fool cells into viewing it as estrogen, the hormone that regulates female development. Laboratory studies - disputed by the chemical industry - have linked low-level exposures to such effects as skewed mammary gland growth that, if it occurred in humans, would increase breast cancer risk, and to altered brain development, particularly for exposures that occur during fetal or early neonatal life.

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Designating a substance as toxic gives the government more authority to implement controls on a material. To protect wildlife, the federal government has proposed a discharge limit on the amount of BPA allowed in effluent, but its adoption depends on the chemical being place on the toxic substances list.

In response to a notice of objection, Environment Minister Jim Prentice could appoint a review panel to investigate the claims made by the entity opposing the designation. Environment Canada says no decision on such a panel has been made.

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About the Author
Investment Reporter

Martin Mittelstaedt has had a varied reporting career at the Globe and Mail, covering politics, the environment and business. He opened up the Globe's New York bureau for the Report on Business, and has also been on the banking and capital markets beats. He's written extensively on investing themes. More

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