According to a recent study, a number of Canadian-made and imported baby products contain toxic compounds known as perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), both of which have been banned in Canada and internationally. A study conducted by the NAFTA environmental protection agency found that two-thirds (or 94) of 137 tested products were contaminated with compounds. This is cause for serious concern, as these chemicals have been linked to several negative health effects, including illnesses related to the liver and thyroid, cancer and reproductive issues.
The agency in charge of the study, known as the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC), represents the interests of Mexico, USA and Canada – the member countries of NAFTA. The international body tested a number of different products, including bibs, mats and blankets. All six of the bibs involved in the study were found to contain either PFOA or PFOS – and in some cases, both. Certain bibs contained eight other potentially dangerous chemicals as well.
The CEC found perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) in the following commodities:
- Nine waterproof pants (out of a total of 10 pants)
- 20 adult jackets
- 11 children’s jackets
- Four waterproof baby blankets, mats and pads
Expert Speaks Out
Muhannad Mala, of Environmental Defence Canada, expressed sincere concern over the matter: “[That] people are unknowingly, unintentionally buying these things is a big cause for concern,” he said, continuing: “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.”
What Are PFAS Chemicals?
So what are Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)? First, PFAS is the generic name used to describe chemicals like PFOA and PFOS. These types of chemicals were developed in the mid-twentieth century (40s and 50s) and have been used in the creation of waterproof, stain resistant and non-stick products.
You might recognize them as the substances used to make your frying pan non-stick or your rain jacket water resistant. Perhaps most notoriously they have been used in the manufacturing of firefighting foam, used at military bases throughout the US. Firefighting foam has been linked to groundwater contamination, which has led to communities getting seriously ill seemingly out of nowhere.
Though scientists are still not certain about the effects of PFAS, studies have found links between these substances and cancer, fertility issues, lowered immune systems and a litany of other problems. Scientists think that PFAS disrupts the endocrine system – meaning these chemicals can seriously affect the hormonal processes in the body. Since these chemicals don’t break down, they tend to collect over time in water sources and in the blood stream, leading to negative health consequences. They can be ingested orally or through the skin.
Though Canada issued a partial ban on the substances, products such as baby bibs, mats, blankets, sportswear and weightlifting gloves were exempt. As suggested by Mala, an ongoing review being conducted by Catherine McKenna, the Environmental Minister in Canada, should include the outcome of the CEC study. The Environmental Committee in the Canadian House of Commons gave Mckenna 87 suggestions last June. Some of those suggestions included heightened monitoring on PFAS chemicals. McKenna has said she is open to “meaningful changes” to the current law regulating the use of PFAS.
Malas worries that people will buy these products (many of which are made in Canada) and think they’re safe because many of the commodities have labels saying BPA-free or lead free. This, Malas contends, could be misleading, considering the results of the CEC study. “This is the kind of information the public needs to know about,’ said Malas, continuing, “They have a right to know.”
Emma Rohmann, an environmental health expert, echoed Malas’ concerns, saying, “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.” She added, “As parents, we try to make the best choices for our little ones […] but this study is a perfect example that not enough is being done, especially in products marketed for infants and children.”