The Hill Times
BY Rick Smith
TORONTO—It’s not every day the federal government—or any government for that matter—gets a pat on the back from environmentalists in this country. On many a report card over the years I’ve scribbled down “needs improvement” or, at my most effusive, “good first step.” This year, it feels great to give the federal government a gold star. Its Chemicals Management Plan (CMP) has done a lot to protect Canadians from toxic chemicals in consumer and industrial products, and has effectively made Canada a world leader in chemical management and toxics reduction. (You can find Canada’s Chemicals Management Plan: Progress Analysis at www.EnvironmentalDefence.ca)
Introduced by the Conservatives in 2006, the CMP was born of increasing public scrutiny about the health impacts from toxic chemicals and consumer product safety. Our Toxic Nation testing campaign (www.ToxicNation.ca), which found significant levels of toxic chemicals in politicians’ blood and urine, didn’t hurt either.
In response, the Government of Canada embarked on a plan to protect Canadians and our environment from harmful toxic chemicals in industrial and consumer products. The CMP seeks to monitor, assess, and regulate the effects of 500 substances identified as high priority. These were to be addressed through three initiatives: The Challenge to Industry, The Petroleum Sector Stream Approach, and The Significant New Activity Approach.
The most significant high-priority triumphs have been made through the Challenge to Industry initiative. Under this process, 196 substances are being assessed for environmental and health risks. Because of this, it looks like a total of 45 (or 23 per cent) will be declared “toxic” in Canada; the necessary legal trigger to further regulatory action. The most widely-known chemical in this category is probably bisphenol A (BPA), a hormonally active toxin commonly used to manufacture certain types of plastics. Canada became the first country in the world to ban BPA in baby bottles in 2008. It’s not widely appreciated that it was the assessment framework created by the CMP that led to this result.
Interestingly, declaring bisphenol A “toxic” was not the only time Canada earned the global gold-star. According to our calculations, almost half of the “toxic” or likely to be “toxic” substances coming through the Challenge are not found on three world-class substances lists. This includes California’s Proposition 65 list, the European Union’s Substances of Very High Concern list, and the U.S. List of Hazardous Air Pollutants. Remarkably, the final assessments of the Challenge substances should be wrapped up this summer, which is within five years of the CMP being launched.
The other successful high-priority initiative was the Significant New Activity Approach. Because of this, industry now has to submit certain data to the government before these 145 substances can be imported into or used in Canada. This was decisive government action, with measures coming into place less than two years after the CMP was announced.
Unfortunately though, momentum has failed to materialize in the CMP’s third high-priority substance initiative. In reality, the Petroleum Sector Approach has barely got off the ground. Originally, assessment of the 164 substances in this stream was supposed to be wrapped up by this July. But as of today, draft assessments have only been released for 70 substances. The good news though is that of these, 40 are proposed to be “toxic.”
Beyond these initiatives, the CMP has sparked a host of other actions. Some substances included in the challenge are now part of a group of 350 substances that will be assessed using a class approach. The Virtual Elimination List, which aims to eliminate some toxic substances entirely, has finally come into place. Canada has now matched European standards restricting toxic chemicals in kids’ toys and in consumer electronics. Heavy metals like lead and cadmium are being better regulated. On top of this, Canada is now systematically measuring the levels of toxic pollutants in Canadians’ blood, so it’s now possible to track levels over time.
We need a second CMP built on the top-notch success to date. Like the CMP Part 1, CMP Part 2 needs multi-stakeholder groups providing valuable advice to the program. It also needs to assess the outstanding petroleum sector substances and 2,600 medium-priority substances (including triclosan, an antibacterial used in everything from socks to toothpastes that may weaken the immune system, disrupt the hormonal system, can bio-accumulate; and belongs to a class of chemicals that are suspected of causing cancer in humans) as rigorously as we’ve seen to date. And to make sure this happens, it
needs to get moving now. We hope, for the sake of the environment and the health of Canadians, that it actually does.
Five years of gold-star chemicals management
The Hill Times