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OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada intends to become the first country to ban the import and sale of some types of plastic baby bottles because they contain a chemical that the government says could harm infants and toddlers.
Health Minister Tony Clement said on Friday he would bring in rules to outlaw plastic polycarbonate baby bottles, perhaps within the next year. These bottles are made with bisphenol A, which is also used in food and water containers.
Clement said bisphenol A could hinder child development and cited a study which he said showed that overexposure at an early age could cause behavioral and neurological symptoms later in life.
"We have concluded that early development is sensitive to the effects of bisphenol A," he told a news conference.
"Although our science tells us that exposure levels to newborns and infants are below the levels that cause effects, we believe that the current safety margin needs to be higher... It is better to be safe than sorry."
The U.S. government said on Tuesday that bisphenol A could be tied to early puberty, and to prostate and breast cancer. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers the chemical safe in products for use by infants and children.
Canadian scientists also found low levels of the chemical could over time harm fish and other organisms.
Clement said bisphenol A could migrate into food, especially when heated, and he warned parents never to pour boiling water into bottles made with the chemical.
Officials had initially said Ottawa might ban all drink and food containers that contained bisphenol A. But Clement said Ottawa was focusing on products for children.
"Most Canadians need not be concerned ... because in most instances, negative health effects occur at levels much greater that those we are exposed to," he said.
Major Canadian retail chains have already started removing bottles and containers containing bisphenol A, citing public concerns about possible health risks.
U.S. firm Nalgene, a major producer of baby bottles, said on Friday it would phase out the use of bisphenol A, also known as BPA, although it also said the products were safe.
"We continue to believe that Nalgene products containing BPA are safe for their intended use. However, our customers indicated they preferred BPA-free alternatives and we acted in response to those concerns," Steven Silverman, the firm's general manager said in a statement.
Bisphenol A is also used in the lining of infant formula cans, and Clement said Ottawa would work with industry to reduce the use of the chemical.
Rick Smith, executive director of the Environmental Defence group, said Clement's announcement marked the beginning of the end for the chemical.
"This sends a clear message to the plastics industry that it needs to do better," he told Reuters.
The American Chemistry Council -- based in Arlington, VA -- said the proposed ban was not supported by science and noted that Canadian studies showed infants were not exposed to harmful levels of bisphenol A.
Editing by Janet Guttsman