Toxic baby blankets?

Baby bibs, mats and blankets tested by scientists with NAFTA's environmental arm contain toxic chemicals linked to higher rates of cancer, infertility and suppressed immune systems — substances already banned from most other products in Canada.

Muhannad Malas, the toxics program manager at Environmental Defence, says the Commission for Environmental Co-operation study shows it's time to do away with the federal exemptions that allow the use of such chemicals in clothes and other textiles.

And Environment Minister Catherine McKenna's ongoing review of Canada's law that governs toxic chemical use offers a perfect opportunity to address concerns raised by the study, Malas said in an interview.

The chemicals, known broadly as PFAS, are synthetic substances created mostly in the 1950s for a number of purposes in consumer and industrial products, such as non-stick surfaces and stain, water and fire resistance.

The chemicals can leach into waterways and drinking water sources when products that contain them are washed or get wet outdoors, said Malas. They can also be ingested through contaminated water or absorbed through the skin or the mouth, he added.

Canada banned the use, manufacture and import of the chemicals in 2016 after research began linking them to increased incidence of cancer, infertility and immune system suppression. However, a number of products were exempted, including infant bibs and blankets, outerwear and sportswear.

Last summer, scientists with the Commission for Environmental Co-operation tested 137 different products in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico to determine the prevalence of the substances, which are not routinely tested for in clothing items.

"The results are quite alarming," said Malas.

Overall, the chemicals were found in 94 of the 137 products; of the 43 products that were purchased in Canada, 37 of them contained at least one PFAS.

All six Canadian baby bibs tested contained at least one form of the chemicals; one contained nine, which Malas said raises concerns that Canada's existing laws don't account for the potential cumulative impact of being exposed to multiple forms at the same time.

All four of the baby blankets and waterproof mats purchased in Canada contained at least one PFAS chemical, as did all 11 outdoor kids' jackets, all 20 outdoor adult jackets, 10 of the 11 snowsuits and winter gloves, and all three cycling and weightlifting gloves.

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