Loblaw Companies Ltd. is winning praise from a coalition of environmental, health and labour groups for its commitment to stop using receipt paper that contains a potentially dangerous chemical.
The grocery and drugstore chain confirmed Tuesday its plan to transition to phenol-free receipt paper across all its divisions by the end of 2021.
The move was applauded by groups that said it will help protect workers and customers from harmful chemicals.
It also renewed pressure on other Canadian retailers to phase out the chemical.
“Loblaw’s actions are the latest example of a growing trend among top North American retailers,” said Mike Schade, director of the Mind the Store campaign, which pushes large retailers to eliminate toxic chemicals from their products and operations.
“Sobeys, Metro, and other Canadian retailers should step up and join Loblaw in banning toxic chemicals in their receipts,“ he said in a statement.
In 2019, the Toronto-based environmental group Environmental Defence released research that showed cashiers may be exposed to hormone-disrupting chemicals found on receipt paper.
The findings prompted a coalition of groups to launch a call-to-action urging Canada’s top retail giants to stop using bisphenol-coated receipt paper.
“Grocery store cashiers who are exposed to high levels of hormone-disrupting (bisphenol A) and (bisphenol S) from handling receipts deserve to be protected,“ Muhannad Malas, toxics program manager at Environmental Defence, said in a statement.
The Canadian government declared bisphenol A (BPA) a toxic chemical in October 2010. Some retailers removed BPA-coated receipt paper, but replaced it with paper that contains similar phenol substances, according to the groups.
In January 2020, Costco Canada became the first Canadian-based grocery retailer to phase out bisphenol-coated receipt paper, the coalition of health, labour and environmental groups said Tuesday.
Last spring, Loblaw said in its Corporate Social Responsibility report that it plans to transition to phenol-free receipt paper by the end of 2021.
“Loblaw’s commitment to phase out all phenols in their thermal paper used for receipts by the end of 2021 is excellent news for women’s health, and we applaud the company for this initiative,” Jennifer Beeman, executive director of Breast Cancer Action Quebec said in a statement.
“Bisphenols used in thermal paper are known endocrine disruptors and can be a significant source of exposure for women – many of whom keep their receipts – as well as the women, particularly teens and young women, working as cashiers.“
She said bisphenol exposures can disrupt normal breast development and health and cause other types of health problems.
Loblaw includes stores under the banners Loblaws, Zehrs, Your Independent Grocer, Real Atlantic Superstore and Provigo, as well as its discount division, which includes No Frills and Maxi.
The company also has a network of Shoppers Drug Mart and Pharmaprix drugstores.
The Canadian Press Tue., Jan. 26, 2021
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Most Plastic Products Contain Potentially Toxic Chemicals, Study Reveals
From yogurt containers to bath mats, stuff you use every day may come with hidden risks. Here are tips to minimize exposure.
Most of the plastics that consumers encounter in daily life—including plastic wrap, bath mats, yogurt containers, and coffee cup lids—contain potentially toxic chemicals, according to a new study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.
The researchers behind the study analyzed 34 everyday plastic products made of eight types of plastic to see how common toxicity might be. Seventy-four percent of the products they tested were toxic in some way.
The team was hoping to be able “to tell people which plastic types to use and which not [to use],” says Martin Wagner, Ph.D., an associate professor in the department of biology at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, and senior author of the new study. “But it was more complicated than that.” Instead of pointing to a few problematic types of plastic that should be avoided, the testing instead revealed that issues of toxicity were widespread—and could be found in nearly any type of plastic.
The results help illustrate just how little we know about the wide variety of chemicals in commonly used plastics, says Wagner.
To be clear, the plastics found to have some form of toxicity aren’t necessarily harmful to human health. The researchers tested the chemicals in ways that are very different from how most people come into contact with them. Extracting compounds from plastic and exposing them directly to various cells does not mimic the exposure you get when you drink from a refillable plastic water bottle, for example.
But the results do call into question the assumption that plastic products are safe until proved otherwise, says Wagner.
“Every type of plastic contains unknown chemicals,” and many of those chemicals may well be unsafe, says Jane Muncke, Ph.D., an environmental toxicologist who is the managing director and chief scientific officer for the nonprofit Food Packaging Forum, which works to strengthen understanding of the chemicals that come into contact with food.
Here’s what the study found, what we know about how plastic could be affecting human health, and what you can do to reduce your exposure to some of the chemicals that researchers are concerned about.
What the Study Found
The 34 products tested were made from seven plastics with the biggest market share (including polypropylene and PVC), plus an eighth type of plastic—biobased, biodegradable PLA—that doesn’t yet have a huge market share but is often sold as more sustainable and “better,” according to Wagner.
Because there are millions of plastic products available, this study is not fully representative of the entire market, but it included a sampling of commonly used products made from the most widely used plastics.
The researchers detected more than 1,000 chemicals in these plastics, 80 percent of which were unknown. But the study was designed in part to show that it’s possible to assess the toxicity of plastic consumer products directly, even without knowing exactly which chemicals are present, Wagner says.
In the lab, the team checked to see if the plastics were toxic in a variety of ways, including testing for components that acted as endocrine disruptors, chemicals that can mimic hormones. (Elevated exposure to endocrine disruptors has been linked to a variety of health problems in humans, including various cancers, reduced fertility, and problems with the development of reproductive organs.) Almost three-quarters of the tested plastics displayed some form of toxicity.
Despite the large proportion of products that displayed a form of toxicity, Wagner says it’s important to note that some products didn’t show any signs of toxicity, meaning that many companies may already have access to safer forms of plastic.
It’s not yet clear from this work that any type of plastic can be consistently made in a nontoxic way; every type of plastic tested in this study sometimes displayed toxicity. That could happen due to chemicals added to the base plastic for color or flexibility, because of impurities in ingredients, or because of new chemicals that emerge in the manufacturing process.
By evaluating consumer products themselves and all the chemicals they contain, this study takes a very comprehensive approach to measuring plastic toxicity, according to Laura Vandenberg, Ph.D., an associate professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences, who was not involved in the study. That’s because it’s testing plastics as people encounter them, not just by isolating individual chemicals.
The fact that plastics are made of mixtures of thousands of chemicals is important, says Muncke, who was also not involved in the new study. That’s because a combination of chemicals can make a product more or less risky. Individual levels of one concerning chemical, like BPA, might be below the threshold of concern. But if other chemicals that raise similar concerns are present, they could combine to create a hazardous effect.
The Health Effects of Plastic
Most people don’t understand how little we know about the safety of the chemicals found in plastic, Muncke says.
But in recent years, consumers and public health experts alike have increasingly expressed concern about the potential health effects of our ongoing exposure to ordinary, everyday plastics and to the microplastics that people are inadvertently exposed to through food, water, and the air.
“We’ve surrounded ourselves with plastic. The stuff has been used to package foods for the last 40 years; it’s everywhere,” says Muncke. “It’s fair that the average citizen would say, ‘Well, if it wasn’t safe, it wouldn’t be on supermarket shelves.’ ”
In practice, however, “it’s actually not really well understood,” she says, and “we are still using known hazardous chemicals to make plastic packaging that leach into food.”
Some of the best-known examples include BPA, found in plastic water bottles, plastic storage containers, thermal paper receipts, and the lining of food cans; and phthalates, found in many products and often used to make PVC plastics (such as imitation leather and some shower curtains) more flexible, says Vandenberg.
In 2018, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) published a report saying that some chemicals in plastic, including bisphenols (such as BPA) and phthalates, may put children’s health at risk, and recommended that families reduce exposure to them.
Studies in humans link BPA to metabolic disease, obesity, infertility, and disorders like ADHD, Vandenberg says. Studies in animals have also linked BPA to prostate and mammary cancer, as well as brain development problems. Phthalates are known to affect hormones, she says, which means they can alter the development of reproductive organs and alter sperm count in males.
“You’re not going to just drop dead [from hormonal activity in plastics], but it could contribute to diseases that may manifest over decades, or it could affect unborn embryos and fetuses,” Vandenberg says.
And there are many more chemicals that we know far less about, as this latest study showed. Sometimes, when chemicals associated with known problems (like phthalates) are phased out, we later discover that the replacement chemicals cause similar problems, something Vandenberg describes as “chemical whack-a-mole.”
Because there are so many unknowns, we should take a more precautionary approach to deciding whether or not a plastic is safe, Wagner argues. Instead of taking something off the market after it has been proved to be unsafe, manufacturers could test for toxicity before products are sold. “Better to be safe now than to be sorry in 10 or 15 years,” he says.
6 Tips for Cutting Back on Plastic
Totally avoiding plastic is almost impossible, but it’s possible to reduce your exposure to concerning chemicals found in these products.
- Eat fresh food. The more processed your food is, the more it may have come into contact with materials that could potentially leach concerning chemicals, says Muncke.
- Don’t buy into “bioplastic” hype. Green or biodegradable plastic sounds great, but so far it doesn’t live up to the hype, Wagner says. Most data indicate that these products aren’t as biodegradable as their marketing would imply, he says. Plus, this latest study showed that these products (such as biobased, biodegradable PLA) can have high rates of toxicity, he says.
- Don’t use plastics that we know are problematic. But don’t assume that all other products are inherently safe,either. The American Academy of Pediatrics has previously noted that the recycling codes “3,” “6,” and “7” indicate the presence of phthalates, styrene, and bisphenols, respectively—so you may want to avoid using containers that have those numbers in the recycling symbol on the bottom. Wagner adds that “3” and “7” also indicate PVC and PUR plastics, respectively, which his study found contained the most toxicity. But products made from other types of plastic contained toxic chemicals, too, which means that reducing your plastic use overall is probably the best way to avoid exposure.
- Don’t store your food in plastic. Food containers can contain chemicals that leach into food. This is especially true for foods that are greasy or fatty, according to Muncke, and foods that are highly acidic or alkaline, according to Vandenberg. Opt for inert stainless steel, glass, or ceramic containers.
- Don’t heat up plastic. Heating up plastics can increase the rate through which chemicals leach out, so try to avoid putting them in the microwave or dishwasher. Even leaving plastic containers out in a hot car could increase the release of concerning chemicals, says Vandenberg.
- Vote with your wallet. Try to buy products that aren’t packaged in plastic in the first place, says Vandenberg. “We need to make manufacturers aware that there is a problem,” she says. “There are products that could provide the benefits we need to make the food chain safer.”
By Kevin Loria October 02, 2019
The Facts About Bisphenol A
In 2008, the possible health risks of Bisphenol A (BPA) – a common chemical in plastic – made headlines. Parents were alarmed, pediatricians flooded with questions, and stores quickly sold-out of BPA-free bottles and sippy cups.
Where do things stand now? Have plastic manufacturers changed their practices? How careful does a parent need to be when it comes to plastics and BPA? Here’s the latest information we have about possible BPA risks.
BPA is a chemical that has been used to harden plastics for more than 40 years. It’s everywhere. It’s in medical devices, compact discs, dental sealants, water bottles, the lining of canned foods and drinks, and many other products.
More than 90% of us have BPA in our bodies right now. We get most of it by eating foods that have been in containers made with BPA. It’s also possible to pick up BPA through air, dust, and water.
BPA was common in baby bottles, sippy cups, baby formula cans, and other products for babies and young children. Controversy changed that. Now, the six major companies that make baby bottles and cups for infants have stopped using BPA in the products they sell in the U.S. Many manufacturers of infant formula have stopped using BPA in their cans, as well.
According to the U.S. Department of Health, toys generally don’t contain BPA. While the hard outer shields of some pacifiers do have BPA, the nipple that the baby sucks on does not.
What does BPA do to us? We still don’t really know, since we don’t have definitive studies of its effects in people yet. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration used to say that BPA was safe. But in 2010 the agency altered its position. The FDA maintains that studies using standardized toxicity tests have shown BPA to be safe at the current low levels of human exposure. But based on other evidence – largely from animal studies – the FDA expressed “some concern” about the potential effects of BPA on the brain, behavior, and prostate glands in fetuses, infants, and young children.
How could BPA affect the body? Here are some areas of concern.
Hormone levels. Some experts believe that BPA could theoretically act like a hormone in the body, disrupting normal hormone levels and development in fetuses, babies, and children. Animal studies have had mixed results.
Brain and behavior problems. After a review of the evidence, the National Toxicology Program at the FDA expressed concern about BPA’s possible effects on the brain and behavior of infants and young children.
Cancer. Some animal studies have shown a possible link between BPA exposure and a later increased risk of cancer.
Heart problems. Two studies have found that adults with the highest levels of BPA in their bodies seem to have a higher incidence of heart problems. However, the higher incidence could be unrelated to BPA.
Other conditions. Some experts have looked into a connection between BPA exposure and many conditions – obesity, diabetes, ADHD, and others. The evidence isn’t strong enough to show a link.
Increased risk to children. Some studies suggest that possible effects from BPA could be most pronounced in infants and young children. Their bodies are still developing and they are less efficient at eliminating substances from their systems.
Although this list of possible BPA risks is frightening, keep in mind that nothing has been established. The concern about BPA risks stems primarily from studies in animals.
A few studies in people have found a correlation between BPA and a higher incidence of certain health problems, but no direct evidence that BPA caused the problem. Other studies contradict some of these results. Some experts doubt that BPA poses a health risk at the doses most people are exposed to.
BPA: Governmental Action
The federal government is now funding new research into BPA risks. We don’t know the results of these studies yet. Recommendations about BPA could change in the next few years.
For now, there are no restrictions on the use of BPA in products. The Food and Drug Administration does recommend taking “reasonable steps” to reduce human exposure to BPA in the food supply. The FDA has also expressed support for manufacturers who have stopped using BPA in products for babies and for companies working to develop alternatives to the BPA in canned foods.
A number of states have taken action. Connecticut, Maryland, Minnesota, Washington, Wisconsin, and Vermont have laws restricting or banning the sale of certain products containing BPA, like bottles and sippy cups. So have cities like Chicago and Albany, as well as a few counties in New York. Similar laws are likely to pass in New York and California, and state legislatures are considering restrictions in many other states.
BPA Risks: What Can Parents Do?
Although the evidence is not certain, the FDA does recommend taking precautions against BPA exposure.
Trying to eliminate BPA from your child’s life is probably impossible. But limiting your child’s exposure – and your own – is possible. It doesn’t even have to be hard. Here are some tips on how to do it.
Find products that are BPA-free. It isn’t as hard as it once was. Many brands of bottles, sippy cups, and other tableware prominently advertise that they are BPA-free.
Look for infant formula that is BPA-free. Many brands no longer contain BPA in the can. If a brand does have BPA in the lining, some experts recommend powdered formula over liquid. Liquid is more likely to absorb BPA from the lining.
Choose non-plastic containers for food. Containers made of glass, porcelain, or stainless steel do not contain BPA.
Do not heat plastic that could contain BPA. Never use plastic in the microwave, since heat can cause BPA to leach out. For the same reason, never pour boiling water into a plastic bottle when making formula. Hand-wash plastic bottles, cups, and plates.
Throw out any plastic products – like bottles or sippy cups – that are chipped or cracked. They can harbor germs. If they also have BPA, it’s more likely to leach into food.
Use fewer canned foods and more fresh or frozen. Many canned foods still contain BPA in their linings.
Avoid plastics with a 3 or a 7 recycle code on the bottom. These plastics might contain BPA. Other types of numbered plastic are much less likely to have BPA in them.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on December 10, 2019
Harvey Karp, MD, pediatrician, author of The Happiest Baby on the Block and The Happiest Toddler on the Block; assistant professor of pediatrics, UCLA School of Medicine.
American Nurses Association.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Environmental Working Group.
Food and Drug Administration.
George Mason University’s Statistical Assessment Service (STATS.)
Healthy Child Healthy World.
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
Ryan, B. Toxicological Sciences, March 2010.
Sharpe, R. Toxicological Sciences, March 2010.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.