What is the Canadian government doing to monitor endocrine disrupting chemicals, such as bisphenol A, in our bodies and the wider environment?
EDAction collaborated with the Write2Know Project to create a letter that the public can send to federal researchers and politicians in order to learn more. The Write2Know Campaign was created in March 2015 under the Harper federal government, which cancelled over a hundred research programs and fired thousands of scientists conducting essential research. They shuttered libraries and destroyed data archives. The remaining scientists faced significant constraints that impact their ability to speak directly to the media, the public, and even other researchers about the results of their work. Journalists reporting on the environmental consequences of industry, for example, were regularly denied interviews with federal scientists monitoring the impact of industrial waste, and cannot verify their stories. Under the new federal government, the Write2Know campaign continues as a way to bring questions of public concern to scientists and ministers. The campaign is not merely a call for access to the facts of science, but for a better, more inclusive and collaborative form of inquiry based on the needs of communities. Write2Know is a platform for participatory democracy and a new kind of “civic science” that we want to become a norm in Canada.
The Background on BPA
As early as the 1990s, Canadian scientists have been inquiring into the harmful effects of a class of chemicals known as endocrine disruptors (Colborn 1996, McMaster et al., 2004). Bisphenol A (BPA) is a common chemical in consumer and industry products, and has been linked to a variety of health concerns such as prostate cancer, breast cancer, testicular cancer, thyroid cancer, ADHD, asthma, obesity, and diabetes (WHO/UNEP 2012). Scientists were initially alerted to these chemicals because of observed changes in the sex ratios of fish and their low rates of reproduction. Endocrine disruptors are unique because they can have particularly potent effects at low doses, meaning that low amounts in the environment or in bodies can have more potent effects than other chemicals at higher doses (Vom Saal and Hughes 2005). In 2010, the Canadian Health Measures Survey (CHMS) found BPA in the urine of 91% of the Canadian population surveyed, with the highest concentrations in children aged 6 to 11 years (Haines et al, 2010).
The Canadian Government declared BPA a toxic substance in 2008. In 2010, they banned the use of BPA in baby bottles (BPA Screening Assessment). Although the Canadian Government has been celebrated as the first jurisdiction to take action against BPA, the resulting regulations have fallen short of addressing the scope of BPA’s effects and harms. For example, some sources of BPA in the environment, such as wastewater from pulp and paper mill effluents, have been almost completely overlooked. Recent research on BPA has turned attention to skin exposures through contact with the thermal paper used for credit card and cash register receipts. Researcher are also highlighting the effects of cross-contamination among paper products circulating in the paper recycling process (Randolf 2002, Biedermann et al 2010).
Current government legislation does not mandate any toxicology testing for industrial products that contain or can be cross-contaminated with BPA (Scott 2009), nor does it specify measures for investigating any of the proposed substitutes to BPA (CEPA 1999). This leads to the disturbing result scientists are now discovering: that the substitutes replacing BPA, such as Bisphenol S (BPS) are just as toxic as BPA (Grignard 2012, Naderi et al., 2014).