Ontario could become the first jurisdiction in Canada to place restrictions on bisphenol A, a controversial chemical that is found in hundreds of consumer products, ranging from plastic baby bottles to sports helmets and the resin linings on the insides of most tin cans.

Although Health Canada is currently assessing the safety of bisphenol A, Premier Dalton McGuinty said yesterday the province won't wait until Ottawa rules on the chemical's safety.

He said Ontario plans to appoint an expert medical and scientific panel to advise it on potentially dangerous substances in widespread use, and a priority for this group will be to provide recommendations on how best to deal with bisphenol A.

In remarks to reporters yesterday, Mr. McGuinty said the government is worried that exposure to chemicals may be one reason for the rising incidence of cancer.

He said that if a chemical poses a risk, Ontario is prepared to introduce restrictions on its own. The expert panel will advise the government while it develops legislation requiring reductions in exposures to toxic chemicals.

"If we can work with the feds and capitalize on studies they have done, all the better, but we won't wait for the feds to act," the Premier said.

Mr. McGuinty made the remarks in response to a demonstration outside the legislature yesterday, where several dozen parents with babies and small children called on the government to take action against bisphenol A. It was believed to be the first rally in Canada called to oppose the use of the chemical in consumer goods.

Bisphenol A is used to make clear, translucent plastic that resembles glass. Its presence is sometimes identified by the recycling industry's symbol of a triangle containing the number seven.

Health Canada will issue a preliminary assessment on whether bisphenol A is a health risk in about six months, but it could take the federal government until early 2009 to decide what restrictions, if any, need to be placed on it. Federal officials consider this a fast-paced review because it normally takes them about five years to evaluate the safety of a chemical.

Although bisphenol A has been in use for nearly 50 years, in the past decade there has been an explosion of animal and other research linking it to many ailments whose incidence has been increasing, including breast cancer, prostate cancer, diabetes and fertility problems. The research indicates that exposure may be particularly harmful during key points of fetal development.

Some scientists suspect the chemical, because it is able to act like estrogen, skews normal cell development that depends on signals from the female sex hormone. However, manufacturers of bisphenol A have insisted their product is safe and say their testing has given it a clean bill of health, as have regulators in other countries.

The director of Environmental Defence yesterday praised the government for appointing the panel that will look at bisphenol A. He said provincial governments need to pass legislation to get potentially dangerous chemicals out of consumer goods because the public can't keep up with the sometimes bewildering substances in many products.