If you were told that your go-to brand of cheese contained a toxic ingredient, would you continue to eat it? What if it was your favourite lavender-scented laundry detergent? Your child’s dearest toy truck? My guess is no. But not according to the federal government who is proposing not to ban a group of hazardous plastic and fragrance ingredients known as phthalates.

(Take action now by asking for stronger toxic chemical regulations in Canada.)

child playing with toy truck with phthalates

What are phthalates?

Phthalates are chemicals used to make plastic more malleable, long lasting, and shatter proof. They are used everywhere — from food processing equipment and packaging to laminate floors, shoes, and even school supplies.

Another common use for phthalates is in fragrances found in air fresheners, detergents, candles, shampoos, perfumes, lotions, and all sorts of cosmetics. Phthalates are what make a scent last or stick to your skin. For young children, a primary source of exposure to phthalates is from putting toys in their mouths and inhaling dust.

What does the science say about phthalates?

Scientists around the world are warning about the effects phthalates have on the function of our hormones and our reproductive system. A​ ​group​ ​of​ ​leading​ ​scientific​ ​and​ ​medical experts​ ​ recently warned that phthalates may be responsible for increasing rates of behavioural problems like ADHD and for lowering IQ levels in children. And as you may have seen in recent news headlines, exposure to phthalates is linked to the decline in male fertility.

In fact, Canada restricts the use of six phthalates in children toys and articles, but it does not go far enough to ban their use in food packaging, cleaning products, cosmetics, paints, and other products. And many other phthalates remain unregulated.

While Canada is proposing not to ban any of the 28 phthalates it assessed in October, the European Union has listed at least seven of them as “Substances of Very High Concern,” meaning they are banned unless industry can prove they’re safe for use. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission also decided to ban two of these phthalates from children’s toys and articles. Canada’s assessment doesn’t even label them as toxic.

spraying perfume with phthalates

So, why is Canada saying phthalates are not a major risk?

Canada’s assessment recognizes that many phthalates are hazardous chemicals; however, it claims that exposure to the general population is low. This conclusion is very disconcerting for a couple of reasons:

  1. According to the Endocrine Society, even very low levels of exposure to phthalates can be problematic for vulnerable people like children and pregnant women.
  2. Instead of following the U.S. and the EU to restrict the use of the chemicals, Canada is choosing to not protect Canadians from phthalate exposures.

Our federal toxics law needs to be reformed

Phthalates are still allowed in many products simply because our federal toxics law is outdated. Time and time again Canada has failed to ban nasty chemicals from our everyday products.

That’s why the federal government must act on its commitment to fix the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) by introducing amendments this year.

Canada should lead, not lag when it comes to toxics. Take action now by sending a letter to the environment and health ministers to ask them to keep their promise.

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