Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Catherine McKenna, makes an announcement on how the federal government will allocate a portion of the proceeds collected as a result of carbon pollution pricing during a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, June 25, 2019. A new report says retailers in Canada are lagging behind American companies in removing hazardous chemicals from their products. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Overhauling Canada’s toxic chemicals law should be priority: advocate

Scientists want Canada to amend the law to force the makers of chemicals to prove the products are safe

A new report suggests retailers in Canada are lagging behind American companies in removing hazardous chemicals from their products.

Muhannad Malas, the toxics program manager at the advocacy group Environmental Defence, said he is disappointed in the findings of the fourth annual report card on how American and Canadian retail companies manage chemicals that have been linked to things like cancer and organ damage.

He said it underscores the need for Canada to finally overhaul the law that governs toxic chemicals.

“Across the U.S. retail sector we see continuous improvement when it comes to taking action on toxic chemicals,” he said.

“In Canada, we’re not really seeing improvement.”

He said the United States doesn’t have any stronger regulations or laws for chemicals than Canada does, and that most of the action there is voluntary.

But if Canadian companies aren’t going to do it on their own, he said, then the Canadian Environmental Protection Act could be used to try and force the issue.

“One of the arguments one could make is that our regulations in Canada do not incentivize or encourage retailers to go beyond the regulatory level,” he said.

He said Canada needs to be more restrictive about “chemicals of high concern,” including things like per- and polyfluoroalykyl substances, also known as PFAS, and bisphenols.

They are used to make plastic packaging stronger, or to help packaging, carpets or building materials repel oil and water. They have also been linked in a number of studies to cancers, liver and kidney damage, obesity, hormone disruptions, thyroid issues and infertility.

Some of the chemicals are on a list of prohibited substances, but Malas said there are many exemptions, including in many imported manufactured goods, which makes the prohibition meaningless. He said some of the alternatives that were developed to replace banned chemicals are proving to be just as bad but haven’t even been assessed by the Canadian government.

Ottawa began doing its mandatory five-year review of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act in 2016, but decided to push off making any changes to the law until after October’s federal election.

There was little focus on toxics during the recent campaign but the Liberals did include a single sentence in their platform promising to update the law.

Malas is hoping fixing the environmental protection act will be a priority once the new cabinet is named Wednesday. The changes will be complex and take a lot of consultation, so he worries if it’s not introduced right away, the minority Parliament could fall before the law is passed.

The House of Commons environment committee made 87 recommendations for improvements to the act in 2017, including better management of toxic chemicals.

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna — who is being moved to a new file in Wednesday’s cabinet shuffle — committed to some of the changes, such as preventing the replacement of a chemical that is determined to be toxic with an alternative that is no better.

Scientists want Canada to amend the law to force the makers of chemicals to prove the products are safe before they can be used, rather than the current onus requiring a product to be proven unsafe before it can be restricted. McKenna did not commit to doing that.

In the report card, U.S. home renovation giants Home Depot and Lowes got credit for promising to eliminate harmful chemicals from carpeting and rugs by the end of this year, and food companies Whole Foods and Panera Bread promised to do the same from packaging and take-out containers.

Canadian retailers like Metro, Sobeys and Restaurant Brands International were all given a failing grade in the report card for not having a public commitment to phase out the use of any chemicals of concern. Canadian Tire got a D-plus and Loblaw a C, both of which did take some steps to remove chemicals from products.

Canadian Tire, for example, removed some toxic chemicals from paint strippers and food contact products and Loblaw was credited for having a public policy that includes phasing out some chemicals that aren’t restricted yet, and applying that phase-out to packaging and food and hygiene products.

None of the Canadian companies responded to a request for comment about the report on Tuesday.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Warm ‘blob’ could be behind mass starvation of North Pacific seabirds: Study

Unprecedented death toll raises red flag for North American marine ecosystems

Power lines cut as thieves strike Parksville veterinary hospital

‘Thankfully there weren’t any animals or staff in the clinic when this happened’

Nanaimo mom will celebrate 40th in style after $500,000 lotto win

Crystal Giesbrecht matches all four numbers on BC/49 Extra

Vancouver Island woman files sexual harassment suit against former Mountie

Former RCMP officer Brian Mathew Burkett is also being sued by two other women for sexual harassment

Vancouver Island lighthouse keeper wins a million bucks playing the lottery

“I usually just get a quick pick, so I didn’t expect to win a big prize”

VIDEO: Soldiers trade rifles for snow shovels to help dig out St. John’s

A state of emergency is set to extend into a fifth day

Saanich Police ask for help locating missing high-risk youth

Robyn Coker-Steel has not been in contact with anyone from her home since Dec. 27

Former Sidney mayor calls on local MLA Adam Olsen to resign over ferry blockade

Olsen has rejected the demand, calling Price’s language divisive and responsible for polarization

Six boat wrecks wash up on Cadboro Bay beaches over the weekend

Dead Boat Society working with Oak Bay, Saanich to clear derelict boats

Tech consortium invests $25 million into 14 research projects, two at UVic

Investments come with goal of developing, implement technologies created by Canadians

Vic High alumni named Victoria’s new Youth Poet Laureate

Neko Smart, the founder and coach of the Vic High slam poetry team, will serve a one-year term

Photographer captures Port Alberni personalities in black and white portraits

Meet John Douglas, Courtney Naesgaard in double until Feb. 8 at Rollin Art Centre

ICBC to bring in ranking system for collision, glass repair shops

Change comes after the much-maligned auto insurer has faced criticism for sky-high premiums

Vancouver Island Pride weekend returns to Mount Washington Alpine Resort

Building on the success of last year’s family-friendly pride festival on Vancouver… Continue reading

Most Read