OTTAWA - In a move applauded by environmental activists, Mountain Equipment Co-op has become the first retailer in Canada to stop selling some products that contain bisphenol A, a chemical used to make some plastics that has been linked in some studies to increased incidence of cancer and other diseases.

CTV News has learned that the Vancouver-based Co-op started removing some water bottles and food containers that contain bisphenol A (BPA) although the retailer says it may reverse the decision once a Canadian federal government review of the chemical's safety is complete next spring.

"Inconclusive science and regulatory uncertainty presently surrounds bisphenol-A (BPA), a synthetic chemical that is an essential 'building block' of polycarbonate plastic," Tim Southam, a spokesperson for Mountain Co-Op, said in a statement e-mailed to CTV News. "For these reasons, Mountain Equipment Co-op has stopped selling polycarbonate water bottles and food containers until guidance is provided by the Government of Canada on the health risks posed by BPA."

Health Canada is expected to publish its conclusions on the health risks of BPA in May.

A spokesman for the plastics industry, though, says Mountain Equipment Co-Op (MEC) is being needlessly cautious. "While MEC's intentions are good, their action is not likely to have any impact on the health and safety of their customers," said Steven Hentges, the Washington, D.C.-based executive director of the Polycarbonate/BPA Global Group.

"Consumer products made from bisphenol A have a very long track record of safe use and an equally long record of safety testing. No alternatives have been so well tested or so well vetted by government agencies."

Hentges and others cite reviews, for example, by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration which concluded that no bans or restrictions on BPA are currently required.

But activists opposed to the use of bisphenol A point to more than 100 independent studies which link the chemical to increased incidence of cancer, obesity, and early onset of puberty.

"We've got study after study showing that its harmful, particularly for children," said Aaron Freeman of Environmental Defence, an advocacy group. "There are safe and available alternatives ready on the market."

One of the products Mountain Equipment Co-Op will take off the shelves is the Nalgene water bottle, made by Nalge Nunc International Corp. of Rochester, New York. The Nalgene bottle has become a popular brand among, for example, college students. At its Web site, Nalge Nunc International says, "Based on the findings of the Food and Drug Administration, The Environmental Protection Agency, The American Plastics Council and other reliable sources from around the world, we continue to firmly believe in the safety of our products."

But certain products containing BPA "that are technically specific for our core users," according to Southam, will remain for sale by Mountain Equipment Co-Op. For example, a water filter sold by the co-op and used by backcountry campers to ensure they have clean drinking water has BPA. In general, the co-op has kept products for which there is no functional equivalent.

MEC has 11 stores across the country and 2.6 million members.

Other Canadian retailers are looking at their options on BPA.

"We are keen on Health Canada's guidance, but have also placed this firmly on our radar as we engage chemical specialists (such as) vendors, NGOs and environmental groups as part of our overall sustainability program," said Kevin Groh, a spokesman for Wal-Mart Canada Inc. of Mississauga, Ont.

"I think it's a just matter of time -- and not very much time -- before this chemical's off the market," said Freeman.

But plastics industry associations are not ready to concede that point yet. "Scientific and government bodies around the world have reviewed bisphenol A and in every case, these reviews strongly support the safety of consumer products, including water bottles, that contain trace levels of bisphenol A," said Hentges. "We are optimistic that, once Health Canada completes their review of bisphenol A, MEC will again stock the trusted products that their customers have relied upon for years."