This website was established for Canadian scientists to call on the federal government to strengthen Canada’s cornerstone environmental law.
With the recent parliamentary committee review of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA) we now have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to prevent pollution and reduce toxic environmental exposures in Canada. Please consider signing our petition to urge the federal government to amend CEPA.
A Once-in-a-Generation Opportunity to Prevent Pollution and Reduce Toxic Environmental Exposures in Canada
SCIENTIST SIGN-ON LETTER TO STRENGTHEN CANADA’S POLLUTION LAW
The House of Commons Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development has recently concluded its review of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA), Canada’s main pollution and toxics law.1 The parliamentary review, which generated a comprehensive report that contains 87 recommendations to amend CEPA, provides a strong roadmap for the Canadian government to protect Canadians from toxic chemicals.
The letter below, from Canadian scientists to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, urges the government to amend CEPA and adopt the recommendations of the parliamentary committee. To add your name to the letter, please fill in all the fields requested.
Your email will not be shared with any organization, and you will not be contacted on any matter unrelated to this sign-on letter.
By signing this petition, I agree that the time has come for CEPA to be strengthened:
Letter to the prime minister
Dear Prime Minister,
Canada has a serious pollution problem that is a threat to both human health and the quality of our environment. Widespread contamination of the air, soil and water, wildlife and our bodies with toxic chemicals is a significant concern for scientists, medical professionals and the public. According to a recent estimate by the International Institute for Sustainable Development, air pollution alone causes 7,700 premature deaths every year, yet Canada is the only western industrialized country without legally binding and enforceable national air quality standards. A recent UNICEF report ranks Canada 25th among rich countries on children’s well-being, due to the state of air quality in the country. 2
Mounting scientific evidence also shows a clear link between exposures to harmful chemicals – many of which are found in consumer products – and asthma, allergies, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, learning disabilities, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and low birth weight. 3
Some populations are at particular risk, including the developing fetus, infants and young children due to their heightened sensitivity and larger exposures to toxic chemicals. Indigenous people in Canada’s North suffer significant health consequences because of high exposures to persistent toxics such as mercury, PCBs, flame retardants, and non-stick chemicals that migrate from where they are used in the south to northern regions.
Many of these toxic substances are persistent and bioaccumulate in humans, wildlife and the environment. Toxic chemicals are routinely found in endangered wildlife, potentially affecting the reproduction and survivability of key species. Studies on Great Lakes fish continue to show high levels of toxic chemicals released from consumer products and industrial processes. 4
Canada’s overarching law governing pollution and toxics is outdated; it is inadequate to deal with today’s sources of pollution and toxic chemicals. We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity today to curb pollution, save lives, protect the environment, boost the economy, and improve the quality of life for all Canadians by updating CEPA.
The House of Commons Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development’s June 2017 report on CEPA contains key recommendations to improve the law and offers a foundation for how the law should be amended. We concur with the recommendations and the report and urge our government to:
1. Reverse burden of proof for substances of very high concern.
Substances of very high concern, such as known carcinogens, should be prohibited unless industry can provide the government with adequate certainty that the substance can be used safely in specific applications and there are no feasible substitutes.
2. Incorporate alternatives assessment and substitution of toxic chemicals.
CEPA should explicitly require toxic products, processes, and substances to be replaced with safer alternatives where feasible.
3. Increase protections for vulnerable populations and communities.
In the assessment and management of toxic substances, CEPA should take into account the fact that certain populations – including Indigenous people, seniors, children, and lower socioeconomic status populations – bear a disproportionate burden of environmental impacts from pollution and toxics.
4. Require chemical risk assessments to include aggregate, cumulative and synergistic effects.
The single substance approach to assessing the health and environmental effects of chemicals is inadequate given the myriad of substances people are exposed to on a regular basis.
5. Create national air quality standards that are legally binding and enforceable.
Air pollution is the leading environmental cause of death and illness in Canada, contributing to thousands of premature deaths and millions of illness episodes annually. We are currently the only industrialized nation without legally binding national standards, and our voluntary guidelines are often weaker than the legally binding standards in other countries.
6. Improve timelines and requirements for risk management actions on toxic chemicals.
Action on toxic substances under CEPA can be delayed indefinitely, as can be seen by the long periods of time it has taken for substances such as asbestos, triclosan and brominated flame retardants to be restricted or banned.
7. Improve enforcement by bolstering CEPA’s toolbox and increasing resources.
As the Commissioner for Environment and Sustainable Development and other independent experts have observed, lack of enforcement of CEPA is a significant problem. We recommend immediately increasing the budget for enforcement, and creating a public environmental protection mechanism based on the civil enforcement approaches used successfully in the US and Australia to enhance regulatory compliance.
8. Mandatory labelling of toxic substances in consumer products.
Extend workers’ right-to-know about toxic substances to all citizens by requiring mandatory labelling of all consumer products containing toxic substances or chemicals suspected of causing adverse health effects including cancer, birth defects, reproductive harm and allergic reactions. Similar labeling requirements already exist in Europe and California.
9. Fix the chemical assessment/reassessment process.
Aspects of CEPA intended to facilitate the assessment or reassessment of chemicals have proven inadequate to the task. We recommend creating three clear triggers for assessment: new scientific evidence about health or environmental harms; a ban or substantial restriction by another foreign state or subdivision of a foreign state that is a member of the OECD; and an ability for individuals to request a review.
10. Improve review and approval process for new substances.
The new substance review and approval process under CEPA includes numerous loopholes and areas of regulatory uncertainty, whether it is a new chemical or a genetically modified organism that is proposed for use in Canada. There are also no public consultations on the risks.
11. Recognize the right to a healthy environment.
An important CEPA reform is the recognition of the right to a healthy environment for all Canadians. More than 150 countries around the world recognize their citizens’ legal right to a healthy environment. Indeed, citizens in more than one hundred countries enjoy constitutional protection of this right. Human health, well-being, and dignity depend on access to clean air, soil and water, safe food and a stable climate.
1 House of Commons Canada (2017). Healthy Canadians, Healthy Economy: Strengthening The Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999. Report Of The Standing Committee On Environment And Sustainable Development. 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. Available at: http://www.ourcommons.ca/DocumentViewer/en/42-1/ENVI/report-8/
2 Smith, R., McDougal, K. (2017). Cost of pollution in Canada: Measuring the impacts on families, businesses and governments. International Institute for Sustainable Development. Available at: http://www.iisd.org/sites/default/files/publications/costs-of-pollution-in-canada.pdf and UNICEF Office of Research (2017). ‘Building the Future: Children and the Sustainable Development Goals in Rich Countries’, Innocenti Report Card 14, UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti, Florence. Available at: https://www.unicef.org/publications/index_96413.html
3 Lanphear, B. (2015) The Impact of Toxins on the Developing Brain. Annual Review of Public Health. Volume 36:1, 211-230. Available at: http://www.annualreviews.org/doi/10.1146/annurev-publhealth-031912-114413 and United Nations Environment Programme and the World Health Organization, (2013). State of the science of endocrine disrupting chemicals 2012. Edited by Åke Bergman, Jerrold J. Heindel, Susan Jobling, Karen A. Kidd and R. Thomas Zoeller. Available at: http://www.who.int/ceh/publications/endocrine/en/ and Meeker JD. Exposure to Environmental Endocrine Disruptors and Child Development. Archives of pediatrics & adolescent medicine. 2012;166(6):E1-E7. doi:10.1001/archpediatrics.2012.241.
4 Benkowski, B. (2015) Hormone-Mimicking Chemicals Found throughout Great Lakes Chemicals that make it through sewage treatment are found throughout Great Lakes waterways. Scientific American. Available at: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/hormone-mimicking-chemicals-found-throughout-great-lakes and Shaogang Chu, Robert J. Letcher, Daryl J. McGoldrick, and Sean M. Backus., A New Fluorinated Surfactant Contaminant in Biota: Perfluorobutane Sulfonamide in Several Fish SpeciesEnvironmental Science & Technology 2016 50 (2), 669-675 DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.5b05058, and Daryl J. McGoldrick, Elizabeth W. Murphy, Concentration and distribution of contaminants in lake trout and walleye from the Laurentian Great Lakes (2008–2012). Environmental Pollution.Volume 217, October 2016, Pages 85-96.