Endocrine Disruptors

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View of Catalyst Paper across from the Somass River at Port Alberni Mill in British Columbia. Photo taken by Kevstan on December 18th 2012.

The Question
What is the Canadian government doing to monitor endocrine disrupting chemicals, such as bisphenol A, in our bodies and the wider environment?

The Background

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 2002Biedermann 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 2012Naderi et al., 2014).

Your Letter to Federal Scientists

Dear Drs Hing-Biu Lee, Mark McMaster, Joanne Parrott, Mark Hewitt, Derek Muir, Sean Backus, and Technologists Thomas E. Peart, and Gerald Tetreault,

Thank you for your research investigating the presence of endocrine disruptors in Canadian environments. While we are grateful that the government has acknowledged the toxicity of Bisphenol A, and has regulated its use in baby bottles, Canadians remain concerned about the ubiquity of this substance in consumer goods and in the industrial waste circulating through our environments. We are especially concerned about the impacts of ongoing exposures to Bisphenol A (and its substitute Bisphenol S) on wildlife and people.

Based on your expertise, we are writing to ask:

  • What kinds of monitoring programs are in effect for measuring the amount of BPA in our bodies?
  • Given these recent connections between Bisphenol A exposure and paper products, how is the release of this substance from industry being monitored?
  • While there have been some efforts to control this ubiquitous chemical, how effective have these interventions been?
  • Are the similarly toxic substitutes to BPA, such as BPS being, monitored?

I am writing this email as part of Write2Know (http://write2know.ca), a letter-writing campaign that aims to mobilize public awareness and inquiry into federal research programs. We want to let you know that we value federal science and scientists, and that our questions arise out of genuine concerns about the health and well-being of Canadians.

We remain concerned about the legacy of constraints on access to federal scientists and the results of their research, the elimination of essential research programs, and the closure of libraries and archives. These constraints and closures have impacted what Canadians can and cannot know about the health of their bodies, communities, and environments. We are hopeful that a new government will address our concerns.

We are posing questions to federal scientists about their research and findings, and forwarding our letters to federal Ministers and Members of Parliament to call attention to serious gaps between scientific evidence and government policy.

I look forward to your response.


[Your name]


Hon. Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change
Hon. Jim Carr, Minister of Natural Resources
Hon. Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs
Hon. Jane Philpott, Minister of Health
Hon. Patty Hajdu, Minister of Status of Women
Hon. Hunter Tootoo, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard
Hon. Kristy Duncan, Minister of Science
Hon. Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development

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Add your Signature to the Letter on Endocrine Disruptors

Dear Federal Scientists and Ministers,


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More Information

Biedermann, S., Tschudin, P., & Grob, K. (2010). Transfer of bisphenol A from thermal printer paper to the skin. Analytical and bioanalytical chemistry, 398(1), 571-576.

Colborn, T., Dumanoski, D., & Myers, J. P. (1996). Our stolen future: are we threatening our fertility, intelligence, and survival?: a scientific detective story. Dutton.

Haines, D., Levallois, P., Levesque, J., Van Oostdam, J., & Viau, C. (2010). Lead and bisphenol A concentrations in the Canadian population. Statistics Canada.

Grignard, E., Lapenna, S., & Bremer, S. (2012). Weak estrogenic transcriptional activities of Bisphenol A and Bisphenol S. Toxicology in Vitro, 26(5), 727-731.

Mark Hewitt, L., Parrott, J. L., & McMaster, M. E. (2006). A decade of research on the environmental impacts of pulp and paper mill effluents in Canada: sources and characteristics of bioactive substances. Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part B, 9(4), 341-356.

Naderi, M., Wong, M. Y., & Gholami, F. (2014). Developmental exposure of zebrafish (Danio rerio) to bisphenol-S impairs subsequent reproduction potential and hormonal balance in adults. Aquatic Toxicology, 148, 195-203.

Raloff, J. (2010). Receipts a large—and largely ignored—source of BPA: Small studies raise big alarm about exposure to a hormone-mimicking chemicalScience News, 178, 5.

Vom Saal, F. S., & Hughes, C. (2005). An extensive new literature concerning low-dose effects of bisphenol A shows the need for a new risk assessment. Environmental health perspectives, 926-933.

World Health Organization. (2012). State of the Science of Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals. Geneva: International Programme on Chemical Safety.

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