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OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada has declared bisphenol A a toxic chemical, prompting calls for far-reaching curbs on the industrial chemical that is used in everything from the linings of aluminum cans to coatings on electronic till receipts.
Canada added the compound, known as BPA, to a list of substances deemed potentially harmful to health or the environment in a notice published in the Canada Gazette on Wednesday.
That makes it easier for Ottawa to regulate the use of the chemical, perhaps by limiting how much BPA can be released into air or water or perhaps with outright bans on its use in specific food containers.
"The risk assessment of BPA put together by our federal government is very strong in terms of its conclusions, so I think it's a foregone conclusion that it will drive further action rather quickly," said Rick Smith, executive director of Environmental Defense, which campaigned to ban BPA.
BPA is mass produced and has been used for decades to harden plastics. It is widely used to line food and beverage containers, and a recent government report said it was present in the bodies of 91 percent of Canadians.
"We are literally marinating in it on a minute-by-minute basis," said Smith.
The primary health concerns center on BPA's potential effects as an endocrine disrupter, which can mimic or interfere with the body's natural hormones and potentially damage development, especially of young children.
"Our science indicated that Bisphenol A may be harmful to both human health and the environment and we were the first country to take bold action in the interest of Canadians," Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq said in a statement.
Smith said Canada has been a world leader in its crackdown on BPA. It promised the first steps to control use of the chemical in 2008, and in March this year banned plastic baby bottles that contain BPA. A next step could curb BPA use in the lining of baby formula tins, he added.
Canada could also limit BPA emissions by factories into the environment and work with industry to reduce exposure through the lining of canned goods.
But industry groups point to other research which has been inconclusive on the toxicity to humans, leading regulators in other countries to be more lenient on manufacturers.
The American Chemistry Council (AAC), an industry group, said the move to declare BPA toxic contradicted research by Canada's own health department and it said studies show BPA does not accumulate in the body.
"Just days after the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) once again confirmed that BPA is safe for use in food-contact items, Environment Canada's announcement is contrary to the weight of worldwide scientific evidence, unwarranted and will unnecessarily confuse and alarm the public," said Steven G. Hentges of the AAC's Polycarbonate/BPA Global Group.
The European Union's food safety watchdog said on September 30 it saw no need to cut the official limit of accepted exposure to BPA, despite pressure from a group of scientists and health campaigners warning of possible harmful health effects.
It's not clear what substitute manufacturers could use to replace BPA.
Editing by Janet Guttsman