Media Release

New Products Law Will Add Needed Powers to React to Problems But Improvements Needed to Enable Prevention

Apr 09 2008

Toronto: The Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA) has been calling for reform of Canada’s Hazardous Products Act for over eight years including calling for many of the measures announced yesterday.

 “This new law moves us forward with measures that can both recognize and react to problems in products,” said Theresa McClenaghan, Executive Director and Counsel with the Canadian Environmental Law Association. “However, the Bill does not include key provisions to prevent toxic substances in consumer products or provide better warning labels when they are present,” she said. “For example, this Bill will not get lead out of consumer products before they are manufactured and sold; rather it will provide government with tools to react after the fact when such products are discovered on the market.”

Bill C-52, the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act, includes much-needed powers to recall products, new reporting and record-keeping obligations for manufacturers, importers and retailers, an expanded range of inspection and enforcement tools and the ability to levy large penalties. It expands beyond the out-dated focus on lethal or acute dangers and considers chronic effects. The preamble to the bill also notes the need to act with precaution.

CELA will be calling for amendments to Bill C-52 to include proactive measures to prevent problems resulting from the use and disposal of consumer products. Such measures include:

  • Automatic bans or restrictions of CEPA-toxic substances in products: Via comprehensive regulations, any products containing substances considered toxic under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act should be banned or restricted in products with an automatic prohibition of CEPA-toxic substances in toys, clothing or furniture or other products intended for children, and similarly automatic labelling requirements to warn pregnant women about CEPA-toxic substances in the workplace or in products used in the home, such as for cleaning or home renovations.
  • Consistency with other laws on child-protective measures: The Hazardous Products Act and the Food and Drugs Act should provide for at least as much protection from chemicals as is provided for pesticides under the recently revised Pest Control Products Act, including explicit recognition of children, including the fetus, as more vulnerable than adults.
  • Mandatory Labelling of Toxic Substances in Products: Akin to laws in California and several European countries, mandatory product labelling should give consumers the right to know when products contain substances that are known to be carcinogenic or toxic to reproduction or development.
  • Expanded product testing requirements: While C-52 contains welcome provisions for product testing, they need to be expanded such that manufacturers evaluate impacts of their products beyond their intended use, considering the life cycles of hazardous or persistent substances in their products.
  • Include the Substitution Principle: As in Sweden, incorporate the Substitution Principle into laws governing products whereby active replacement occurs of hazardous with less hazardous substances where these alternatives are available.
  • Ban Non-Essential Uses of Lead and Mercury in Consumer Products: The dangers of lead and mercury are well established and long experience shows that voluntary action is insufficient to eliminate widespread use. Regulation-making powers exist now under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act to ban the non-essential use of lead and mercury in consumer products. Such a move would allow, for example, the continued use of lead in automotive batteries or X-ray shielding and the small amounts of mercury used in energy efficient lighting.

“CELA applauds the federal government’s recognition that Canada does not have the legal basis for addressing the hazards and risks associated with consumer products. After millions upon millions of products recalled world-wide during 2007, the public wants to see proactive measures that prevent such problems,” noted Kathleen Cooper, Senior Researcher at CELA. “Bill C-52 is part of the solution but we can do a lot better and follow the lead of California and many European countries if we are to live up to the promises made by the federal government to modernize Canadian laws on consumer product safety,” she said.

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For more information:
Theresa McClenaghan, Executive Director, 416-662-8341 (cell) Theresa@cela.ca
Kathleen Cooper, Senior Researcher, 705-341-2488 (cell) kcooper@cela.ca