Time to push federal government to get rid of dangerous chemicals (backgrounder)

Backgrounder to August 17, 2006 Action Alert

Aug 17 2006

Time to push federal government to get rid of dangerous chemicals A huge backlog of unregulated chemicals remains in commerce in Canada. Over 23,000 substances in commercial use have been the subject of scrutiny for the past seven years through a process known as categorization under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA). Categorization simply identified substances of greatest concern; the government has neither evaluated them fully for toxicity, nor has it proceeded to the stage of regulating them. An estimated 4000 substances have been identified as meeting several very specific criteria; specifically, they are considered likely to be:

  • persistent (don’t break down in the environment); or
  • bioaccumulative (continually concentrate to higher levels in the environment); and
  • inherently toxic (associated with one, and often several, serious health impacts).
  • The list will also identify those chemicals likely to pose the greatest risk for human exposure.

Of the roughly 4000 substances, a shorter list of perhaps 400 substances meet all of the “P, B and iT” criteria (persistent, bioaccumulative and inherently toxic) and are in need of immediate regulatory action, including strategies ranging from phase-out to a full ban.  Given the heavy industry lobby to ensure that little regulatory action is taken on these substances, ENGOs need to continue raising the following issues (as they have throughout the categorization process). No clear plan in sight: We are alarmed that after seven years the government is refusing to include a clear plan of action on these substances, to accompany the categorization results in September. Considerable momentum has been generated by the categorization effort. Canada is the first country to undertake an effort of this magnitude.  But the momentum will be lost without a clear commitment to act on the worst substances. The government’s proposals for action announced this summer are deeply disappointing. Canadians would reasonably expect that the rest of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act would now come into play. Instead of swiftly regulating the “worst of the worst,” that is, about 400 of the most highly toxic chemicals, the plan is for “early preventative management” that focuses on industry selecting non-regulatory measures, with no guarantee that binding rules for reductions will ever be put in place.  Without clear regulatory obligations on industry, there is concern that categorization will not lead to elimination or significant reduction of toxic substances in Canada. Limitations of categorization:  The categorization process had its limitations, including:

  • Decisions by government were made based only on available data.
  • No new toxicity data were generated to assist in making categorization decisions.
  • The categorization criteria were very specific and did not include full consideration of the effects on children’s health of exposure; nor consideration of endocrine disruption.
  • No consideration was given to the persistence or bioaccumulation or inherent toxicity of the by-products of the substances.
  • Volume data used to determine which substances had the greatest potential for exposure were based on data collected 20 years ago.

Despite these limitations, Canada has identified 4000 substances that may be considered toxic under CEPA.  Canada’s policy to virtually eliminate persistent, bioaccumulate toxic substances and its commitment to pollution prevention and the precautionary principle should be followed, now that categorization is complete.    For more information, contact: Fe de Leon, ResearcherPhone 416-960-2284, ext. 223E-mail : deleonf@lao.on.ca