For immediate release: October 6, 2017

Canada’s latest risk assessment of phthalates highlights the urgent need to fix our broken toxics law

Toronto, Ont. – Environmental groups are calling the federal government’s long awaited assessment of the toxicity of phthalates—a group of chemicals used in consumer products and linked to many health impacts including reproductive abnormalities and infertility—another indication that Canada’s toxics law, the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA), is broken.

In marked contrast to conclusions drawn by authorities in Europe and the United States, the federal government’s assessment, released today, concluded that none of the phthalates assessed pose a risk to the health of Canadians. These phthalates are used in plastic toys, personal care products, and food packaging.

“The government’s decision to not designate some of these chemicals as toxic under Canadian law, nor restrict their use in products Canadians use daily, is not consistent with the overwhelming scientific evidence that these chemicals harm children’s health,” said Muhannad Malas, Toxics Program Manager with Environmental Defence. “People and the environment will have to pay the health and economic costs of not acting on these phthalates.”

Canada limits the concentration of some phthalates in toys and child care products. However, the vast majority of the phthalates reviewed in the latest assessment are not included in these regulations. Only one phthalate substance, known as DEHP, has been banned in cosmetics in Canada, yet many other harmful types are still widely used in fragrances, air fresheners, and food packaging. Consumers are often unaware of the presence of phthalates in personal care and cleaning products due to outdated labelling rules that exempt the listing of fragrance ingredients.

“It is mind boggling that Canada’s assessment of phthalates would conclude that most phthalates should not be restricted when other countries have taken strong action to reduce exposures,” said Dr. Elaine MacDonald, Program Director with Ecojustice. “People are exposed to these harmful chemicals every day through plastics, scented products, and fast food packaging. Our laws must be modernized to better recognize and address the dangers of these exposures and promote the use of safer alternatives.”

Exposures to phthalates have been linked to increasing rates of behavioural abnormalities in children and the decline in male fertility. At least four of the chemicals considered in the assessment have been confirmed or proposed to be substances of very high concern (SVHCs) in Europe because of their reproductive toxicity. The EU is also proposing to prohibit the use of four phthalates from consumer products. Moreover, several U.S. states, including California and Washington, have labelled many phthalates as hazardous chemicals of concern and regulated them through labelling or public reporting rules.

Today’s assessment highlights that there is an urgent need to fix Canada’s broken toxics law. A House of Commons committee recently reviewed CEPA, the fundamental law governing toxics and pollution in Canada, and concluded that the law is largely outdated and in need for reform. Out of 87 recommendations to strengthen the law, one critical recommendation is to require industry to prove the safety of substances of very high concern, including a number of phthalates, before they are introduced into products.

The groups call on the federal government to act on these recommendations and amend CEPA to better protect Canadians and the environment.

About ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENCE (environmentaldefence.ca): Environmental Defence is Canada’s most effective environmental action organization. We challenge, and inspire change in government, business and people to ensure a greener, healthier and prosperous life for all.

About ECOJUSTICE (ecojustice.ca): As Canada’s largest environmental law charity, Ecojustice is building the case for a better earth.

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For more information or interview requests, please contact:

Sarah Jamal, Environmental Defence, sjamal@environmentaldefence.ca; 416-323-9521 x251; 905-921-7786 (cell)