CELA Annual Report, 2005 - excerpted article

Pollution and Health

Focus on Pollution Prevention
As the key federal law to control toxic substances, the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) has been a major focus for CELA for over a decade. This law requires that Health and Environment Canada review the over 23,000 substances in commercial use in Canada to determine those that are persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic. CELA has been closely involved in the consultations associated with this review, providing detailed submissions. This work has assisted groups across the country working on this issue. One provision of CEPA mandates that this law be reviewed by parliament every five years. CELA participated on an Advisory Committee regarding the CEPA Review to provide advice on issues to pursue during the review anticipated to begin in 2006.

The acclaimed PollutionWatch website, a collaborative project of CELA and Environmental Defence (ED), provides the public with access to pollution emission information. These data are analyzed for annual trends and two years running have revealed that air pollution continues to be the largest source of outdoor exposures. Both federal and provincial laws and regulations are inadequate to control these emissions. CELA and ED have called for the virtual elimination of pollutants to air and water that are known carcinogens.

Forthcoming changes to the Pest Control Products Act will put in place new requirements for applying the precautionary principle to certain pesticide regulatory decisions. While welcome and perhaps precedent-setting, the specific means by which the precautionary principle will be applied in this legislation have not been developed. The coming year represents an important opportunity to “get it right” in Canada with respect to implementing precaution – and thus prevention of health risks - in these regulatory decisions.

Focus on Children
CELA’s environmental mandate has broadened to include the human health implications of pollution and chemicals in consumer products. An initial collaboration with the Ontario College of Family Physicians provided a baseline of research about the greater vulnerability of children and the need for multiple areas of law reform. For example, this work was part of a diverse and ultimately successful chorus calling for change to Canada’s pesticide law and has continued to support calls for, and passage of, pesticide bylaws in municipalities across Canada. It also provided an initial analysis of the shortcomings of the federal Hazardous Products Act.

CELA has continued this collaborative work with other environment and health-focused organizations through the Canadian Partnership for Children’s Health and Environment (CPCHE) which launched a national public awareness campaign in the fall of 2005. After several years of research into where and how children are exposed to toxic substances, key priorities include outdoor air pollution and indoor exposures, where children spend over 80% of their time. Many of these indoor exposures arise from consumer products.

The problems faced with addressing contaminants in consumer products under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) have been repeatedly noted by CELA as well as federal officials in Environment Canada as they describe the implementation of this law and the issues to be addressed in the parliamentary review. CELA has also noted the even more serious impediment to effective regulation in this area - the antiquated Hazardous Products Act. This law contains no capacity to proactively prevent exposures, particularly chronic exposures, to toxic substances that present risks to prenatal and child health. It also seems clear that trade trumps health since federal lawmakers refrain from regulating imported consumer products, even when they pose risks to children’s health.

Focus on Cancer Prevention
CELA’s collaborative work with the Toronto Cancer Prevention Coalition and others has addressed the right to know about environmental emissions of carcinogens and focused on the need for primary prevention of these exposures in the environment and the workplace. Initial targets are eight key carcinogens identified as concerns in the City of Toronto. At the national level, CELA participates on a National Committee on Environmental and Occupational Exposures that is drafting a Canadian strategy for cancer control. Notably, the children’s health work has revealed the increasingly youthful face of some cancers; several cancers that are rising among young adults are likely the result of exposures during sensitive developmental stages, including in the womb.

Focus on POPs – the Stockholm Convention
The next few years present an important opportunity to modernize federal legislation and associated implementation policy in ways that can help reduce and prevent exposures to toxic substances in the environment. One way to do so will be to expand the number of substances covered under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs). Signed in 2001, ratified in 2004, Canada still needs to develop a national implementation plan to phase out the chemicals named in this international treaty; some of the most poisonous chemicals in the world. CELA will continue to push for both a strong national implementation plan on these POPs as well as for Canada to support calls made by the Commission of the European Union and others to add nine more chemicals to this treaty. As CEPA implementation continues to move forward, the categorization of many more chemicals in common use will mean the need to add still more substances that are persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic to the lists of chemicals requiring phase out.