VANCOUVER - Two of Canada's major retailers said Tuesday they are pulling plastic water and baby bottles that contain the controversial chemical bisphenol A, in anticipation of Health Canada labelling it a dangerous substance.

The Forzani Group Ltd., Canada's largest sporting goods retailer, and Hudson's Bay Co., which includes the Bay and Zellers stores, said Tuesday they are removing BPA products and will refund customers who bought the bottles at their stores.

"Pending the government announcement, the company will immediately move to clear all 94 Bay stores and 280 Zellers stores of BPA baby products, and effective immediately, HBC will no longer sell any baby feeding products that are not BPA-free at any of its stores," the company said in an e-mail to The Canadian Press.

Bob Sartor, chief executive officer of Forzani, which has more than 500 stores across Canada under such banners as Sport Check, Athlete's World and Coast Mountain Sports, said the company began removing the water bottles early Tuesday.

Last year, Mountain Equipment Co-op removed plastic bottles containing BPA from its shelves, while Lululemon Athletica Inc. said all new water bottles arriving in its stores this year would be free of the chemical.

A Globe and Mail report that Health Canada is expected to announce the finding against BPA on Wednesday was "sufficient cause to take the high road and get it off the shelf," Sartor said in an interview.

"We are doing this out of an overabundance of caution."

Forzani couldn't immediately say how much sales revenue the water bottles represent, but said it wasn't material.

"Even if it was, the bottom line is that if there are any significant concerns, we have to deal with it."

If Health Canada marks BPA a dangerous substance it will be the first regulatory body in the world to do so, said Kapil Khatter, pollution policy adviser for Environmental Defence, a Toronto-based advocacy group that has lobbied for a ban on BPA in food and beverage containers.

"We have been saying for months there is enough evidence in animal studies that low doses of BPA are harmful," said Khatter.

"I think it's the right thing to do. They are being responsible about protecting our health."

A preliminary report issued Tuesday by the U.S. National Toxicology Program said experiments on rats found precancerous prostate tumours, urinary system problems and early puberty when the animals were fed or injected with low doses of the plastics chemical bisphenol-A.

While such animal studies only provide "limited evidence" of bisphenol's developmental risks, the group's draft report stresses the possible effects on humans "cannot be dismissed." The group is made up of scientists from the Centers for Disease Control, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Institutes of Health.

Khatter said the government's options include an outright ban of the chemical, which he says may be unrealistic, to taking it out of production, or a substitution plan.

"What we hope they would do is work with the industry to get it out of the system," said Khatter. "We just want them to get it done."

Environmental Defence released a study earlier this year showing some of the most popular plastic baby bottles sold across Canada have all turned up "very significant" levels of BPA.

In the study, nine different polycarbonate bottles from three different major manufacturers were heated during testing and leached levels of the chemical that ranged between five to eight parts per billion.

BPA acts like the hormone estrogen and can alter cell function. Chemical studies on animals have linked the product to cancer and infertility.

"The biggest concern is that we are exposing ourselves to these foreign estrogens," said Stelvio Bandiera, a professor of Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of British Columbia.

While he isn't aware of any studies showing the impact of BPA in humans, Bandiera said that if animals are impacted by the chemical "it is possible it could produce the same effects in humans."

However, Steve Hentges, executive director of the polycarbonate-BPA global group at the American Chemistry Council argues there is a "huge body of evidence" that shows the chemical is not harmful.

"(These studies) support the conclusion there is no risk to human health, particularly at extremely low levels," which he says the water bottles contain.

Hentges called the retailers' decision to remove the bottles "premature."

"The science doesn't support it."

Health Minister Tony Clement wouldn't confirm or deny Tuesday that Health Canada is poised to label BPA as a dangerous substance.

"I'm not here to speculate and certainly when we have something that has been determined, we'll immediately get that out to the public," Clement said.

"Our primary responsibility is the health and safety of Canadians. I believe we have to err on the side of caution, and I believe we have to let science dictate what our determinations must be."

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