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By Vjosa Isai Staff Reporter
Tues., May 15, 2018
Dozens of Canadian-made or imported products, including baby bibs, mats and blankets, contain chemicals with known links to cancer and hormone-related illnesses, according to a study by the NAFTA environmental protection agency.
Two-thirds of 137 items tested contained perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) or perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), both banned in Canada and internationally.
The chemicals are known to disrupt the endocrine system, which controls the body’s hormonal functions. Longtime exposure to the compounds has been linked to cancer, liver and thyroid illnesses, and can cause reproductive damage.
“(That) people are unknowingly, unintentionally buying these things is a big cause for concern,” said Muhannad Malas, a toxics program manager at Environmental Defence Canada, a Toronto-based advocacy group. “People look for things that are safe … these products are being advertised as lead-free, BPA-free, but really end up containing one or more perfluorinated compounds.”
Of the Canadian-made and imported items tested by scientists at the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) — an intergovernmental partnership between Canada, the United States and Mexico — the study found that all six baby bibs in the study contained either PFOA or PFOS, or both, as well as eight other possibly harmful perfluorinated compounds.
Tests on all four waterproof baby mats, pads and blankets; all 11 children’s jackets; nine of out 10 waterproof pants; and all 20 adult jackets in the study also revealed at least one perfluorinated chemical.
This class of chemicals is used to treat textiles with water and steam resistance, or to make non-stick pans. Their use is regulated by Health Canada and Environment and Climate Change Canada.
The departments were not able to comment in time for publication.
Malas said the study underscores an urgent need to modernize and strengthen consumer safety regulations. This process is already in motion, as recommendations to improve the 1999 Canadian Environmental Protection Act were tabled last June. The department is expected to respond next month.
“I would say that this is a clear example of where our regulations have not been protective enough, because we’re seeing these chemicals in products that are not just used by adults, but things like bibs and baby mats,” said Malas
Some of the items tested were marketed as not containing phthalates, lead or bisphenol A (BPA). Scientists purchased the items in stores and online, and did not observe notable differences in terms of chemical traces.
The name brands for the products were removed because of the risk of lawsuits and little added scientific value, said Sébastien Sauvé, a professor in environmental chemistry at the Université de Montréal and a scientist in the study.
Sauvé said perfluorinated compounds have a relatively low toxicity, but the fact that they are commonly used on surfaces means an increased risk of contact, and they can be absorbed in sweat and saliva. They are resistant to degradation in the environment.
“The problem is because they’re persistent, they will tend to accumulate in the body,” he said.
Though main forms of the compound are banned, Sauvé said industries innovated alternative compounds that are not prohibited, but can be just as dangerous.
“I think choosing ‘Made in Canada’ is something that a lot of parents go for and it does provide a certain element of peace of mind, so this is worrying,” said Emma Rohmann, an environmental health expert and mother of two. Rohmann coaches families and natural health practitioners to help reduce the presence of toxic substances in the home.
She advises parents to use natural baby care products, like wipes and lotions, on their children. Non-toxic furniture and organic mattresses are other things that “green” parents look for to avoid the possibility of toxins.
“I think industry plays a huge role. They don’t have to wait for government to regulate them,” she said. “We’re the ones that are spending on things that are toxic, and if we say enough is enough, then manufacturers will make stuff that we will buy.”
Rohmann said she was not surprised by the study’s findings. Neither was Jen Smith, editor-in-chief of EcoParent magazine, who recommends that parents familiarize themselves with brand information and eco-certifications for textiles, such as Oeko-tex and bluesign.
“As parents, we try to make the best choices for our little ones, like using glass bottles, avoiding fire retardants in PJs, or choosing organically grown veggies, but this study is a perfect example that not enough is being done, especially in products marketed for infants and children,” Smith said in an email. “Canada needs to do better.”