OTTAWA —The Conservative government is set to target a new batch of chemicals used in common consumer products — including toothpaste and body wash — to determine if they’re safe for people and the environment.
Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq and Environment Minister Peter Kent announced Monday the renewal of the government’s Chemicals Management Plan (CMP) with a boost of more than $500 million over the next five years.
Substances commonly used in plastic containers, clothing, cleaning products, electronics and batteries are among the chemicals to be reviewed to determine whether they need better regulation or other action, including being banned.
During the first phase of the plan, the federal government banned bisphenol A in baby bottles — an international first that began with a listing of toxicity of the hormone-disrupting chemical.
In addition to eyeing phthalates, flame retardants, boron, selenium and cobalt in the second phase, the government is also finalizing its risk assessment of triclosan, a chemical found in a range of personal care products.
The fate of the bacteria killer, added to many liquid anti-bacterial soaps and some body washes, toothpastes and mouthwashes, will be announced next spring, Health Canada officials confirmed Monday.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has already said existing data raise “valid concerns” about the effects of the repetitive daily exposure to triclosan. Health Canada is looking at the effects on the antiseptic ingredient on the body’s endocrine system and whether triclosan contributes to the development of antibiotic resistance.
“Our plan has made Canada a world leader in consumer and chemicals management, but there is more work to be done and we’re ready to roll up our sleeves,” Aglukkaq told members of the Canadian Consumer Specialty Products Association, promising to complete assessments of about 500 substances by 2016.
The plan, first announced in 2006 with a startup budget of $300 million, initially identified 200 “high-priority” chemicals to undergo safety assessments over five years. When chemicals are deemed to be toxic to human health or the environment under this program, the government then outlines risk-management steps to be taken to protect people or their environment.
In addition to the BPA baby-bottle ban, a stain-repellent chemical was banned in clothing and other products.
The use of a phosphate-based chemical can also no longer be used in foamy toys and other children’s products intended for kids under the age of three.
Another 22 substances have been banned as ingredients in cosmetics as part of the first phase of the chemicals management plan.
“That work must and will proceed,” Kent said of chemical risk assessments and regulatory activities. “The government understands that fiscal restraint has to be a strategic tool, not a blunt instrument, yet budget priorities have to be carefully set and very closely watched. But when it comes to human health and the environment, the course if clear.”
Shannon Coombs, president of the Canadian Consumer Specialty Products Association, welcomed Monday’s announcement.
“We see this plan as a continuation of Canada’s world-leading initiatives in this area and it will ensure the protection of Canadians’ health and safety, and their environment.”
Rick Smith, executive director of Toronto-based Environmental Defence, said he was “delighted” by the news.
“I think people sometimes get jaded about public policy — does good public policy really matter, does public policy actually have an impact on people’s daily lives?” Smith said. “Well, the CMP is a great example of a public policy that’s worked, that’s been ambitious but achievable and we’re delighted that the government, by funding its continuing evolution, is building on its success.”
The second phase of the plan should be as focused and ambitious as the first, added Smith, co-author of Slow Death by Rubber Duck: How the Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Life Affects Our Health.
“One of the reasons why Canadians have seen demonstrable health benefits from the first phase of the CMP is because it’s been focused,” he said. “It’s the reason Canada has BPA out of baby bottles and a variety of other toxic chemicals out of everyday life. Our hope would be that the second phase of CMP is equally focused and has an equally ambitious timeline to target specific chemicals that really matter.”
Government expands chemicals in consumer products to be safety tested