The Gazette
Sarah Schmidt
OTTAWA — A day after announcing a ban on phthalates in children’s soft plastic toys, Health Canada is being accused of failing to crack down on these and other “gender-bender” chemicals in personal-care products — and has just a few months to respond to an official complaint.
The David Suzuki Foundation and the Montreal-based environmental group Reseau des femmes en environment has filed a formal petition with the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, calling on Health Canada to explain the use of phthalates, parabens, siloxanes and Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) as ingredients in products such as shampoos, lotions, deodorants and makeup.
Health Canada does not list these endocrine disrupters on Canada’s cosmetics hotlist. No chemical on the list can be used as an ingredient in makeup or other personal-care products.
But the groups cite a prohibition against the sale of any cosmetics that contain an “estrogenic substance” in Canada’s cosmetic regulations. They also flag the classification of these chemicals by the European Union as “category 1” endocrine-disrupting chemicals — meaning there is evidence that they interfere with hormone activity in at least one species of animal.
“What we’re saying is Canada already has a provision in the regulations. Maybe we just need to enforce it,” said Lisa Gue, environmental health policy analyst at the Suzuki foundation.
“Conversely, Health Canada could add these endocrine-disrupting chemicals to the hotlist. But they wouldn’t actually have to do that. They could simply enforce that regulatory prohibition.”
The federal government has 120 days to respond to the official petition involving personal-care products.
It comes just a day after Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq’s announcement Tuesday of a pending ban on phthalates in children’s toys and other childcare products, based on animal studies showing that phthalates may adversely affect reproduction and development.
The petition asks the federal government to, among other things, define how chemicals flagged by the European Union as suspected endocrine-disrupting substances are used as ingredients in cosmetics sold in Canada.
The official petition also asks how Health Canada interprets and enforces the general prohibition in the Food and Drugs Act against the sale of any cosmetic that contains a substance that “may cause injury to the health of the user,” as well as the prohibition on estrogenic substances in the cosmetics regulations.
The industry group representing cosmetic companies has always maintained that ingredients used in personal care products are regulated very closely by Health Canada, and their products are safe.
But Rick Smith, executive director of Environmental Defence Canada and co-author of Slow Death by Rubber Duck: How the Toxic Chemistry Of Everyday Life Affects Our Health, says it makes sense that Health Canada’s next step would be to restrict the use of phthalates and other endocrine-disrupting chemicals in personal-care products, following the ban of phthalates in children’s toys and childcare items.
“Europe does a better job ensuring that cosmetics are safe than Canada does. There are many substances on the European equivalent of the hotlist that are absent from the Canadian list, and that needs to change,” said Smith.