This week, the Government of Canada announced that it will be moving forward with plans to test the safety of around 1,000 substances that are found in consumer products. Phthalates, bisphenol A (BPA), anti-bacterial agent triclosan and many more substances that affect hormone function or affect the environment will be put under a microscope. All told, this renewal of the government’s Chemicals Management Plan is expected to cost more than $500 million over five years.
When making the announcement, Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq said:
As a mom, I want to know that every product I give to my family and use in my house is safe. We know our consumer protection policies are already at work for Canadians. In fact, a science-based study concluded BPA was harmful to human health and the environment, so it was banned from baby bottles.
Peter Kent, the Environment Minister, added that “Canadians want to have confidence in the products they use everyday, and reassurance that they are not harmful to the environment.”
This new research and assessment is a follow-up to previous work that resulted in changes in Canadian regulations. Canada is the first country to have declared BPA a toxic substance and banned its use in baby bottles. In addition to the BPA baby bottle ban, the first stage of the Chemicals Management Plan resulted in bans of many other substances, a stain-repellent chemical used in clothing, a phosphate-based chemical used in toys and other children’s products and 22 cosmetics ingredients.
One of the challenges, of course, with such studies and decisions are the many shades of grey. Aglukkaq and Kent both speak in absolutes. They talk about the need for Canadians to know that products are “safe.” However, when it comes to the many chemical substances in our consumer products, safety is relative and just because a product is approved by the government doesn’t mean it poses no risk at all. The partial BPA ban is case in point. It has been banned from baby bottles due to the high exposure that babies would receive if they are frequently drinking from a bottle with BPA. However, a breastfed baby getting an occasional bottle with BPA may, in fact, be at less risk than a family that uses refillable water bottles with BPA and eats a lot of canned food from BPA-lined cans.
Photo credit: Annie Urban