Bisphenol A, a widely used chemical that Canada is banning from baby bottles, is present in the bodies of 91% of Canadians, according to a report that shows just how prevalent the controversial chemical is in daily life.
Statistics Canada said Monday's report was the first time it has measured the extent that the industrial chemical, known as BPA, has been absorbed by people exposed to it.
"The real value in this is...for the very first time (we) have baseline information against which we can study trends and track what is happening with respect to bisphenol A exposure," said Tracey Bushnik, of Statscan's Health Analysis Division.
BPA is used in plastic bottles and as a coating for everything from shopping receipts to a lining for cans of foods, but it also has many other uses.
Studies suggesting that low exposure levels early in life can affect neural development and behaviour prompted Canada to announce plans to ban its use in baby bottles. Some consumer groups, citing research linking it to cancer, obesity, diabetes and heart disease, want restrictions to be wider than that.
The Statscan report is based on a two-year survey that measures levels of exposure among Canadians to more than 80 chemicals and environmental contaminants.
High concentration in teens
It found a mean concentration of 1.16 micrograms per liter in the urine of Canadians tested. Teenagers had the highest concentrations of BPA, while children between 6 and 11 had higher concentrations then adults over 40.
That pointed to "continual widespread exposure" to the chemical among Canadians, the report said.
"Cash register receipts are slathered in this stuff...and you absorb it through your skin," said Dr Rick Smith, executive director of advocacy group Environmental Defence and author of a book called "Slow death by rubber duck."
"The average BPA molecule is flushed from the human body in less than six hours," said Smith. "If we can just get BPA out of a few key areas in our lives, levels in our bodies will come down very, very quickly."
We just know its there
Statscan's Bushnik said the Canadian data on BPA is similar to that from countries like the United States and Germany.
"BPA is so widely used...that indeed it would be surprising if it weren't found in our body," said Dr Joe Schwarcz, author and chemistry professor at Montreal's McGill University.
"Just because it's there though, doesn't mean anything more than that it's there. It doesn't imply that it's risky, it doesn't imply that it's not risky."
He added: "We just don't have any evidence to declare this the devil incarnate."
The Statscan survey also found that all Canadians have some concentration of lead in their bodies, but levels are significantly lower than they were the last time a survey like this was conducted 30 years ago.
Less than 1% of Canadians had concentrations higher than 10 micrograms per deciliter of blood, compared with 27% 30 years ago. High concentration levels can raise the risk of damage to the nervous system and kidneys.
Bushnik said the next cycle of the survey will include children starting from the age of three. - (Solarina Ho/Reuters Health, August 2010)
The full report on lead and bisphenol A can be found at: http://link.reuters.com/dyj55n