TORONTO (AP) — Tests on some of the most popular plastic baby bottles sold across Canada have all turned up ''very significant'' levels of bisphenol A — a controversial chemical studies on animals have linked to cancer and infertility, says a new report released Thursday.
In the tests, nine different polycarbonate bottles from three different major manufacturers were heated during testing and leached levels of the chemical that ranged between five to eight parts per billion.
Recent research suggests that even lower levels of exposure to bisphenol A, which acts like the hormone estrogen, can alter cell function, said Rick Smith, executive director of the Toronto-based environmental group Environmental Defence.
''The only argument the chemical industry has left is that those levels aren't high enough to warrant concern, and there is no parent on God's green earth that is going to buy that argument,'' Smith said.
''There's increasingly strong evidence that this chemical can be linked to thyroid problems (and) different kinds of cancer including breast cancer in women, so the fact that we're actually feeding it to our babies — the implications of this are mind-boggling.''
There's little scientific evidence on what bisphenol A does to humans, although not everyone is convinced it poses a risk. Health Canada originally concluded it did not pose a risk, although the agency is reviewing its findings. Comprehensive tests in the U.S. that are frequently cited by manufacturers, including from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, have also concluded there's no danger.
However, studies on mice and other animals have linked the chemical to cancer, reproductive problems, diabetes and learning development disorders.
The bottles — produced by Avent, Gerber and Playtex — were sent to the University of Missouri-Columbia for testing, filled with water, and heated in an oven at 80 C to simulate how the plastic would react to dozens of washings.
Similar levels of bisphenol A emerged from tests conducted on four brands of bottles commonly sold in the United States. Environmental Defence said the results of the study can be considered indicative of most baby bottles containing bisphenol A that are sold in North America.
Health Canada, which is expected to release findings from its review of bisphenol A in May, would not comment on the implications of the test results published in the report.
''The government is aware of a number of domestic and international studies about bisphenol A and will incorporate all the latest science in our assessment,'' a spokeswoman said in a release.
''Bisphenol A is being addressed under the Chemicals Management Plan. The plan will assess the risks associated with bisphenol A, including in consumer products, and use this information to take action, if necessary, to further protect the health of Canadians.''
The companies themselves point to a multitude of studies that suggest fears about bisphenol A are overblown.
On its website, Avent notes that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ''reconfirmed the safety of the use of polycarbonate for food contact, including baby feeding bottles'' in November 2005, while other studies by the U.S. National Toxicology Program and independent scientists under the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis found bisphenol A in consumer products posed no risk to human health.
Playtex's website also cities studies by the U.S. National Academy of Science, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the European Commission Scientific Committee on Food and the Japanese National Institute of Health Sciences, all of which say there's no risk.
Playtex does, however, produce a line of products without bisphenol A for parents that don't want their kids exposed to the chemical at all.
Repeated calls to Gerber Canada for comment were not returned Thursday.
A statement issued Thursday by the New York-based American Council on Science and Health also defended the use of bisphenol A.
''The current, very low levels of exposure to bisphenol A from plastic bottles and other consumer products do not pose a hazard to human health,'' said Dr. Gilbert Ross, the council's executive and medical director.
But Smith said a previous Health Canada study found the chemical to be toxic and parents can't afford to wait a few months to find out if the new study has a different conclusion.
''Parents don't need to wait to take action, they can go to the stores tomorrow and replace their bottles for very little money and they now have all the evidence they need to do that.''
Retailers like Lululemon, Mountain Equipment Co-op and Whole Foods have already taken plastic bottles containing bisphenol A off the shelves, and Smith said consumers don't have to look hard to find alternatives.
Glass bottles are safe and there are also a number of plastic bottles that are labeled non-toxic and bisphenol A-free, Smith said.