A global pandemic illustrates for us, on a devastating scale, that we only have so much time for prevention, and then we spend all of our precious time, energy and resources attempting to manage the unmanageable – widespread harm, illness and complex long-term health impacts. 

With toxic substances, it’s the same prevention vs. management problem. There is a small window to act in the public interest, and then it’s a massive, complex cleanup project that industry profits from and the public pays for. The government is failing us by not taking any action on preventing these toxic exposures in the first place.Red button that says "take action"We cannot put these toxic chemicals back in the bottle once they’re released, so we need to keep them out of the bottle in the first place. With products such as cleaners and cosmetics, we don’t even have the right to know what’s in it – because companies are not required to include ingredients in their labels. This problem has an easy solution: require these product manufacturers to disclose ingredients. 

The federal government is dragging out the implementation of their election promise to label the hazardous ingredients in cosmetics, upholstered furniture, and cleaning products by Spring 2022. Health Canada announced that it would take at least another year to consult with industry, and we are looking at Spring 2023 at the earliest before we get any meaningful action on product labelling. This delay risks any chance they have to make real changes on these issues before the next election. 

Such an irresponsible delay undermines the government’s commitments and puts our health and the environment at continued risk from known hazardous substances.

This government’s own 2017 report recommended improved labelling to protect consumers from hazardous substances found in many products we use every day. Labelling these hazards is an easy to implement requirement that is already in place in Europe and California. We don’t need to listen to yet another year, or decade, of consumer product companies telling the government they don’t want more labelling rules.  

While the government continues to underdeliver on promises to tackle health and environmental harms, the consumer products industry has been getting away with hiding toxic chemicals in its products for decades. Their free run on exposing their customers to toxic pollution – by not having to disclose ingredients due to “trade secrets” – needs to end. Canadians need less talk and more action if we are going to see any real progress. 

The risk of poorly labelled consumer products cannot be ignored, especially during a global pandemic when Canadians are exposed to more cleaning products than ever. We need to know what is in the products we buy and any risks their contents pose to our health. If the burden of telling us the truth is too high, the companies who make these products should remove the hazardous ingredients. There are plenty of safe and effective alternatives available. 

Industry influence on this issue is significant – they don’t want to disclose their formulations, and often argue they are trade secrets. Secret recipes containing toxic chemicals have no place in our world and many other countries and U.S. states agree, and have acted. Our government should never put the suspect claims of industry ahead of safety and environmental health. 

It is now time for the federal government to get serious about delivering on its commitments regarding this issue and include a legislated commitment to labelling of toxic chemicals in consumer products within Bill S-5, the bill that will reform and update the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.