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STANDING COMMITTEE ON ENVIRONMENT AND SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT

COMITÉ PERMANENT DE L'ENVIRONNEMENT ET DU DÉVELOPPEMENT DURABLE

EVIDENCE

[Recorded by Electronic Apparatus]

Tuesday, December 14, 1999

• 0907

[English]

The Chair (Hon. Charles Caccia (Davenport, Lib.)): Good morning,

[Translation]

Good morning. Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), we are resuming our study on the management and use of pesticides in Canada.

[English]

As you know, we started this study in May of this year and we are now coming to the final phase. We hope to be able to complete a report in February. This afternoon's meeting, which was scheduled for 3:30 p.m., has been changed to 4 p.m. The purpose of the meeting this afternoon is for members to have a look at a draft report, which will remain in their possession during the Christmas break and which has the purpose of facilitating the discussion of the next draft, which will be before us as a result of consultations during the Christmas break.

This morning we are very happy to welcome witnesses from the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs, Mr. James Moore, the assistant deputy minister, northern affairs program, and David Stone, the director of northern science and contaminants research. We also have Mr. Fenge, research director for the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, and the technical adviser to the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, Stephanie Meakin, who is an old friend of this committee. We welcome you all.

We'll start in a moment because the member for Northumberland something-something, Mr. Herron, has a motion to table, or at least to propose, for which he has given due notice.

Would you like to present it, Mr. Herron?

Mr. John Herron (Fundy—Royal, PC): Please. And that something-something riding is from the most picturesque riding of Fundy—Royal, Mr. Chair.

The committee has had this in hand for I guess over a week. We haven't had a chance to present it. My motion basically outlines that for its study on pesticides the committee call the Minister and Deputy Minister of Health as witnesses. It would just be logical as this is a health bill.

We've invested a fair amount of time and I think we'd like to be able to have some input from the Deputy Minister of Health and from the Minister of Health on it, largely due to the fact that we've heard a lot of disconcerting issues since we've started these hearings, but in particular Claire Franklin's testimony, where she said the bill had essentially been written for the better part of three years, and they're still waiting for it to be tabled.

• 0910

This committee heard from the Pest Management Advisory Council that they haven't met since August. From that perspective, if he's still consulting individuals, we know they're not consulting its primary advisory group. So we might want to know what are the issues that have held up the bill.

I think it would just make sense that since this is the health minister's bill, we should have a chance to find out his impressions on this and to ask him before the bill is tabled some very direct questions with regard to what the Pest Management Advisory Council mentioned in the sense that there seemed to be a high degree of concern that when they establish risk, testing for pesticides is not necessarily done on those most vulnerable parts of our population.

I would think we have enough individuals here for—

The Chair: No, we don't have the quorum required to move it—

Mr. John Herron: No, we don't.

The Chair: —but we certainly are made aware of your noble motives, and we will take it under advisement for the time being. We do not have a quorum, and I do not intend to have a discussion until we can move it.

Mr. John Herron: Okay.

The Chair: We welcome our witnesses, and I wonder who would like to go first. Mr. Moore.

Mr. James R. Moore (Assistant Deputy Minister, Northern Affairs Program, Department of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. First, I apologize for the quality of my voice. I've managed to pick up one of those colds that are circulating at this time of the year.

Mr. Chairman, you introduced my colleague, Dr. David Stone. I would also just like to mention very briefly that Dr. Stone chaired the Arctic monitoring and assessment program, which is now housed under the auspices of the Arctic Council, and, more to the point, led the development of the AMAP assessment report, a copy of which we have tabled with the clerk. In addition, Dr. Stone led the Canadian team that negotiated a long-range, transboundary air pollution protocol on POPs. I simply provide that for the information of committee members.

If I might, Mr. Chairman, I'd like to spend just a very few minutes on an overview of the northern contaminants program, which I feel would be of import to committee members. I'll try not to take too much time in so doing, if you agree.

The Chair: That's fine.

Mr. James Moore: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

For committee members' information, the northern contaminants program was established in 1991 in response to concerns about human exposure to elevated levels of contaminants, including persistent organic pollutants in wildlife species that are important to the traditional diets of northern aboriginal peoples. Many of these POPs of concern were and continue to be organochlorine pesticides.

Under the first phase of the northern contaminants program, which took place from 1991 through to 1997, research was focused on gathering the data required to determine the levels, the geographic extent, and the source of contaminants in the northern atmosphere, in the environment, and in its people.

The data enabled us to understand patterns and trends of contaminants in the north. They confirmed suspicions that the major contaminants were derived from distance releases to the environment and were an important element in our assessment of human health risks resulting from contaminants in traditional foods, including consideration of benefits from continued consumption of those foods.

The results were generated through northern contaminants program one, again from 1991 to 1997. They are synthesized in the Canadian Arctic contaminants assessment report, which I referred to earlier in my introduction. They were used as Canada's contribution to a similar circumpolar study, which was published in 1997 and 1998 by the Arctic monitoring and assessment program.

• 0915

In preparation for the second phase of the northern contaminants program, extensive consultations were conducted in 1997-98 to find the common elements between the concerns and priorities of northern communities and the scientific needs identified as critical for supporting appropriate actions. As a result, priorities for future work under the second phase of the northern contaminants program were initiated in 1998 and will continue until 2002-2003. They're based on an understanding of the species that are most relevant for human exposure to contaminants in the north and geographic locations and populations that are most at risk. To ensure a balanced assessment of the risks, characterizing and quantifying the benefits associated with traditional diets is also being conducted.

I should point out that communication activities are heavily emphasized under the northern contaminants program. Under the leadership of the northern aboriginal organizations, the dialogue between northerners and the scientific community, which was initiated early in the program, continues to build an awareness and understanding of contaminants issues and helps to support the ability to deal with specific contaminant issues at the local level.

Finally, Mr. Chairman, just a note that funding for the northern contaminants program research budget comes from a combination of agencies, including the Treasury Board and four participating line departments, which include Indian and Northern Affairs, Health Canada, Fisheries and Oceans, and Environment.

With that, Mr. Chairman, if I may, I would like to ask Dr. Stone to address further more specific elements of the contaminants program.

The Chair: Yes, but before you do that, could you comment on this letter to Mr. Taylor dated May 15, which you have deposited with the clerk? It refers to some interesting actions on the part of Dr. Whitby, which you may want to put on record as well for the benefit of committee members.

Mr. Terry Fenge (Research Director, Inuit Circumpolar Conference): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

That material was not circulated by the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. It was circulated by ICC. It's material that we will speak to when our chance comes.

The Chair: It is on the letterhead of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada and it is signed by an official of that department. Evidently, I made the wrong assumption. Nevertheless, I invite you to comment on that letter.

Mr. James Moore: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I'd like to invite Dr. Stone to address that letter, please.

The Chair: Fine.

Mr. David Stone (Director, Northern Science and Contaminants Research Directorate, Department of Indian and Northern Affairs): Mr. Chairman, I'd be happy to do that. In the continuing presentation we were going to make to you, I was going to give you an overview of what we found in the north relative to persistent organic pesticides. When that has been done, the context of this would be clearer, and you might find it more useful for you to discuss it at that point rather than right now.

The Chair: Go ahead.

Mr. David Stone: Thank you, Chairman.

I just wanted to continue for a few moments to give you an idea of the full breadth of the northern contaminants program. In phase two we have five elements. One element is dealing with the human health aspects of persistent organics in native diets and wildlife species. Another is dealing with monitoring the food items that are actually eaten. Another is dealing with education and communication of this information. Another is dealing with developing and implementing our partnerships with aboriginal organizations that conduct large segments of the northern contaminants program. The final part is associated with obtaining appropriate international controls to stop the substances we're worried about from being released into the environment.

To do all of this we have quite a complex management structure. We have a management team, which involves all federal and territorial agencies that have an interest in this topic, including the five main northern aboriginal organizations. This team decides on the general thrust of the program. It decides where expenditures will be taken, it decides on the allocation of expenditures, and it decides on project approval.

• 0920

We have an aboriginal partners committee, which I'll say a little more about, but which Mr. Fenge could elaborate on further if he so wishes. It is responsible for most of those communication activities and it also has to do with activities such as ethics. Ethics are a major concern for us in the conduct of research in the north, particularly research involving human health. Then we have three territorial committees, which are associated with the regional implementation of research.

Finally, I just want to say a few words about another creation of the northern contaminants program. The data we produce are of major concern to northern people, and we have to face up to the fact that they may need to obtain independent advice to government on what the implications of pesticide residues, persistent organic residues, in their diets may be.

To do this, we've established an independent facility at McGill University called the Centre For Indigenous Peoples' Nutrition and Environment, which provides an independent pool of expertise that the northern aboriginal organizations can go to in order to obtain information about their diet and the implications of contaminants that may be in their diet.

For the remainder of the presentation, Mr. Chairman, rather than go through the findings I've listed in the paper that was prepared for you beforehand, I have produced a little deck, which I think is being distributed to you now.

The Chair: Members of the committee, this is how it looks and this is the one Dr. Stone is referring to.

Go ahead.

Mr. David Stone: The first page of this shows you how contaminants, persistent organic pollutants, are distributed around the world and why they've become a concern in an area where they have either never been used or they've hardly ever been used.

First of all, the organochlorine pesticides that we're worried about are called persistent organic pollutants because they share the characteristics of being persistent. They resist degradation in normal environmental conditions. They are semi-volatile, and this is a very important characteristic. It means that they cannot basically decide whether they want to be a solid, a fluid, or a gas. As you'll remember from your chemistry, that is always temperature dependent. So at warm temperatures these substances will enter the atmosphere; at cold temperatures they'll come down to the ground.

Finally, they are fat soluble and have a very low water solubility. Our bodies are designed to get rid of pollutants that they don't like by converting them into water-soluble substances that we excrete in our urine. For fat-soluble substances, that mechanism doesn't work and they tend to build up over a lifetime. In the food chain, that means you can get quite extraordinary concentrations at high levels in the food chain. I will show you some examples of that in a few moments.

So this first slide is showing you how substances released into the atmosphere in warm or temperate conditions can move to cold environments and—

The Chair: Dr. Stone, may I ask you to accelerate your pace, please.

Mr. David Stone: Okay.

Many of the persistent organics we are concerned about are organochlorines.

You can ignore the next page. It was just to show you some of the air monitoring stations we have around the world in the northern contaminants program.

The next picture is to illustrate to you how, at a site in Yukon, we can trace how packages of air that have high concentrations are coming from other parts of the world. In this case, it is high concentrations of HCH, which is a form of lindane, DDT, and chlordane.

• 0925

The next slide illustrates for you how the different characteristics of pesticides relative to their water solubility determine how much you actually get at the upper end of the food chain. The top one, HCH, is a pesticide that has a fair degree of water solubility. You can see, if you follow along the bottom line there, how it dominates what we see in the air and snow and how it becomes progressively less important as you go up to the top of the food chain. For other substances such as chlordane, it is a very fat-soluble pesticide; it bio-magnifies very aggressively.

I think you'll find the next slide particularly interesting because it shows you the findings we have for the diet of Inuit people in the Baffin region, Nunavik, northern Quebec, and for the Dene Metis. It shows you the proportion of women whose daily intake from their traditional diets is exceeding Health Canada's estimated tolerable daily intake levels for a number of pesticides.

The first one is hexachlorocylohexane. The next one is HCH, which you'd be more familiar with, lindane, chlordane, DDT, dieldrin, and toxaphene. And I've put PCBs in to give you something for comparison. So here we have what happens when people are eating their traditional diets and how they can exceed the tolerable daily intake levels.

The next one is a little complicated, but I hope you will just bear with me. It can show you how this happens. If you can look at the second one down, which is chlordane, the tolerable daily intake for chlordane is 0.05 micrograms per kilogram of body weight times the average body weight of a person. So at 60 kilograms it means you consume three micrograms per day of chlordane. Up to that, you would be under the tolerable daily intake level as estimated by Health Canada. Over that, you'd be above.

If you divide that figure of three micrograms by the levels that we find in beluga blubber, which is 3.036 micrograms, you'll come up with the amount of blubber you can eat in a day for a lifetime exposure and remain at or under the tolerable daily intake level. You can see by that simple calculation that you're at that level by eating just under a gram of beluga blubber. So you can see why this is an important issue for northern people.

Finally, the last slide shows the actions we've taken to attempt to remedy the situation. Most of the contaminants we're concerned about are either banned in Canada or they are severely restricted, so the action we wish to concentrate on is obtaining world action.

The main thrust we've had in this is to gather colleagues to require this. One of our main thrusts on this was through the Arctic monitoring assessment program. Mr. Moore has already talked to you briefly about that project and its report.

That data was brought first to the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution. A protocol, which does produce controls of varying types on all the pollutants and pesticides we're concerned about to varying degrees, was negotiated last year at that convention. We initiated last year a global agreement on those substances and that should be completed at the end of next year.

That's my presentation, Mr. Chairman.

The Chair: Did you want to comment on the exchange of letters now?

• 0930

Mr. James Moore: Mr. Chairman, I would like to comment first, and then if there's additional commentary required, I'll turn to Dr. Stone.

The letter was written, as you correctly pointed out, on May 15, 1997. At the time we were in the process of determining the Canadian position as we went forward to negotiate the convention on LRTAP. We were concerned that the one substance, lindane, was perhaps not being included.

At that point we simply asked a number of questions of the Pest Management Regulatory Agency on whether or not they could provide us with copies of their risk assessment and supporting data. You may be aware that we did not receive a copy of the risk assessments. We were told in subsequent correspondence dated August 19, 1997, that due to the confidential business nature of the information, the Pest Management Regulatory Agency was unable to provide us with risk assessments or with the data. They also went on to say that they were actively developing new legislation and policies to fulfil this recommendation. So, Mr. Chairman, we respected that decision.

The Chair: Thank you.

It seems to me, Mr. Moore, that the letter goes beyond what you just described. It is more than asking for information on risk assessment. If I read correctly, in the second paragraph on page 2 your department is asking the Pest Management Regulatory Agency whether or not it “has any plans to review information...in terms of a future reconsideration of the regulatory status of Lindane...”. It seems to me the letter goes beyond what you just described. Am I correct?

Mr. James Moore: Mr. Chairman, I'd like Dr. Stone to respond to that.

The Chair: This is a matter of plain English. It does not require scientific knowledge, if you just read the paragraph on page 2.

Mr. David Stone: Mr. Chairman, the protocol that was agreed to in the LRTAP convention allowed a number of uses of lindane. It also said that two years after the protocol came into force all of these uses would be reviewed. As a result of that, I understand that the pesticide agency is now undergoing a review of its regulatory status of lindane.

The Chair: I'm asking whether you agree with the chair that the paragraph on page 2 goes well beyond the issue of risk assessment. It is asking whether or not a decision would be reconsidered. Isn't that what it says?

Mr. James Moore: Yes, Mr. Chairman, that's correct.

The Chair: Thank you.

We will now move to ICC. Welcome to the committee.

Mr. Terry Fenge: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. With me is Stephanie Meakin, an Ottawa-based consultant who assists us on these issues.

Let me start by providing apologies for the absence of Sheila Watt-Clouthier, who is the president of ICC Canada. She was last week scheduled to appear before you to make our presentation. As the date of our presentation changed at the last minute, we were unable to get her down from the north. There were elections in the north yesterday for the Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., and consequently she is unable to be here. However, I would say that the brief we are about to give has been fully authorized and approved by the leadership.

Before I launch into this, I'd like to note that ICC does indeed work very closely and collegially with the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development on the transboundary contaminant file. While I'm going to try not to repeat some of the comments that Jim and David have made—their comments in essence are entirely descriptive—the comments we wish to bring forward to you are highly analytical. We wish to tell you some of our perceptions of what is happening on the international stage and the connections in domestic legislation and practice with what Canada is saying on the international stage.

• 0935

Over 80% of contaminants, particularly POPs, that are found in the Canadian north originate in other countries. This is a basic and compelling fact. This is why ICC Canada participates actively in international negotiations that have been very briefly described by David.

We are using our observer status to the United Nations. We participate, particularly in the corridors. We're not a state; therefore we cannot speak in the same way other states do. But we do the best we can, lobbying behind the scenes and participating in these meetings.

Our research and advocacy internationally we conduct in cooperation with the Dene Nation, the Métis Nation of Northwest Territories, the Council of Yukon First Nations, and the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada. In the last year we have formalized an arrangement whereby we work as well with the Saami Council, the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples, and the Aleut International Association.

On this issue indigenous peoples in the circumpolar world are strongly united, because this is an issue that cuts to the quick. We are pressing in the international negotiations for a comprehensive, rigorously implemented, and verifiable POPs convention.

The Canadian position in international negotiations reflects very closely domestic legislation and policy on pesticides and toxics. As a result, strong domestic legislation and practice are required if Canada is to successfully persuade the international community to eliminate key POPs and to significantly improve the way in which others are managed.

It's been widely accepted for a decade now that the Pest Control Products Act requires substantial amendments. The need for these amendments was accepted by the Government of Canada in 1994.

In light of the compelling interest and concern of northerners, particularly Inuit, in this issue, we recommend to you that the amendments to the legislation should seek to do four things. One, they should ensure that concern for the public interest drives the legislation. Two, they should ensure that standards are set to protect our most sensitive population—our children. Three, we must increase public confidence in the regulatory decision-making process. And four—and I wish to speak to this at some length, if I may—public access to health assessment data should be guaranteed through the legislation.

I've circulated for your information a package of material. However, I don't wish to go to the correspondence first of all. I would direct your attention to the last three pages. These last three pages are taken out of the AMAP report to which David has already referred. This is the report; I'll circulate it around. It's very well produced, an excellent piece of work.

This is a three-page Canada summary report, and this summary report shows that Inuit on Baffin Island exceed the tolerable daily intake of PCBs, toxaphene, dieldrin, chlordanes, and total HCH and HCB. We know the health implications of this are difficult to measure, but we also know from the literature that there are a variety of potential bad effects, which include destruction of the endocrine system, cancer, abnormal fetal development, kidney disorders, intellectual development impairment, etc.

The guidelines David spoke about do not address the issue of synergistic or cumulative effects of contaminant mixtures found in the Inuit diet, nor are they based on the most exposed and sensitive populations in Canada: our children and pregnant and nursing mothers. Our risk assessment process has many safety factors built into it, but it does not address multiple-dose exposures, nor does it address exposures at critical developmental stages of life.

• 0940

I'd like to move on now to give you some comments in more detail about the United Nations/Economic Commission for Europe POPs protocol. Canada did a good job of getting these negotiations up and running, but our delegation was hindered in its efforts to promote a strong protocol by the culture of caution and penchant for secrecy that inform certain agencies here in Ottawa and the legislation they implement. Efforts to include the pesticide lindane in the protocol illustrate this point.

While pesticides such as DDT, toxaphene, aldrin, dieldrin, and chlordane are banned in Canada, many organochlorine pesticides continue to be used, including lindane. Lindane is a purified form of the gamma isomer of HCH. In 1995, five years ago, path-breaking dietary surveys by Canadian scientists at McGill University showed that many Inuit women on Baffin Island exceeded the tolerable daily intake for HCH.

That is captured for you in this graph on this page. If you look under HCH here, you will see the tolerable daily intake line cuts across the bar. Those above the bar give you a rough indication of the percentage of Inuit women who exceed the tolerable daily intake of total HCH.

Notwithstanding this information, which was available five years ago and was then repeated in the AMAP report and in the Canadian domestic equivalent, the CACAR report, the federal interdepartmental committee developing Canada's position was unable to accept the case for any controls on lindane. PMRA assured its sister agencies that “the presently valid Canadian risk assessment for this substance would not justify such action”.

Now let me draw your attention to the correspondence. It becomes clear now, I hope, why we are bringing this correspondence to you. On May 15, 1997, DIAND's director of environmental affairs formally asked for copies of the risk assessment and supporting data that form the basis of Canada's regulatory management of lindane. In short, PMRA was being asked to share the information supporting its case for exclusion of international controls on lindane. The response was quite remarkable: a blank refusal to share the risk assessment or the data on which the assessments were conducted.

ICC Canada then attempted to obtain this information. We received a letter, which is enclosed for your consideration, from the Minister of Health, refusing to provide us with this information. We're tabling the correspondence today to document what we think is a bizarre and lamentable example, and we ask you, Mr. Chairman, if it's possible, to incorporate this correspondence in the record of your hearing.

Please reflect a minute on the absurdity of this situation. Federal agencies on our national delegation engaged in international environmental negotiations in Geneva were unable or unwilling to share with each other basic information that was directly related to the negotiations at hand. Other nations knew something strange was going on. Representatives of two Arctic nations approached ICC Canada. We were sitting at the back of the room, because we're official observers. They approached us during the negotiations in Geneva and asked whether the Government of Canada's interest in a POPs protocol was diminishing.

Only after much lobbying domestically did Canada agree to reference HCH lindane in the LRTAP POPs protocol. And as David has quite rightly said, the reference of lindane in the POPs protocol ensures that all the current uses in Canada of lindane are allowed to continue.

The obligation to conduct the review that David has quite correctly outlined does not come into place until the convention itself comes into force. And as Canada is the only country that has ratified that convention, the clock has yet to tick on that obligation. Any review currently being done by PMRA is probably the result of domestic activity and domestic lobbying, perhaps including the work you as parliamentarians do, rather than an obligation under the international convention.

• 0945

I think I'm going to have to skip forward, because I can see that you're willing me to conclude, Mr. Chairman. What I'd like to do now is move forward to the global POPS convention, whose negotiations are currently underway.

Negotiations toward a global POPs convention are, we believe, at a critical make or break stage. A successful convention requires a very significant level of agreement between developing and developed nations. As a net recipient of POPs, and with good relations with the developing world, Canada is well placed to broker a global convention. Indeed, the negotiations that are currently underway are very ably and aptly chaired by Dr. John Buccini, who is a senior civil servant within the federal Department of the Environment.

Nevertheless, the culture of caution and penchant for secrecy that we have documented for you in the lindane case must be addressed, for they—this culture for caution and penchant for secrecy—hinder the application of Canada's influence in the global negotiations. For example, Canada continues to maintain the position in these negotiations that in accordance with domestic law, the confidentiality of business information takes precedence over release to the public of POPs information concerning public health.

Until this principle is abandoned—as we hope it will be—and there are amendments to the PCPA, Canada will continue to require that this lamentable principle be incorporated in the global convention. We sit at the back of the room and we have to hear Canada, and the United States in particular, articulating and insisting that this principle be incorporated in the global convention. I don't believe that's an appropriate or helpful position for Canada to take.

A key remaining issue concerns money to implement the forthcoming global convention. The deal on offer is that the developed world commit funds to build capacity in and transfer technology to the developing world, which will then agree to legally binding obligations and effective monitoring procedures.

At the next negotiating session, Canada must be in a position to reveal its financial cards. If Canada can't, other's won't. The result may then be a progressive collapse of negotiations, the result of which would be the perpetuation of contaminated country food in the Arctic. Already we detect signs of concern and anxiety from some developing countries, and we therefore suggest that as a plausible scenario, we might see the collapse of these negotiations.

This is my last paragraph, Mr. Chairman.

We understand that Canada's negotiating team is seeking approval to announce at the next negotiating session, which takes place in Bonn, Germany, in March, a substantial five-year financial commitment by Canada to help implement the convention, and that CIDA, the Canadian International Development Agency, will be responsible for holding and administering the funds. Until this arrangement is formally approved by Treasury Board, Canada's negotiators will not be able to say much in Bonn. That is a situation we would hope you would help to avoid.

We have some specific recommendations, and I would ask Stephanie Meakin to run through those recommendations with you.

Thank you.

The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Fenge.

[Translation]

Mr. Guy St-Julien (Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik, Lib.): On a point of order, Mr. Chairman. I was waiting for Mr. Fenge to finish his presentation and to see his documents.

I fully support the Inuit Circumpolar Conference of Canada, but since it receives subsidies from the Canadian government, they should be able to provide their material in both official languages. Even though they had several days notice, they have provided this material in one language only. We should have had the translation this morning. We are not perfectly bilingual and we hope, Mr. Chairman, that the committee will make very strong representations to witnesses who do not provide Parliament with documents in both official languages. Thank you.

The Chairman: I fully agree with you, Mr. St-Julien. The clerk will do his best to establish a procedure such as you recommend.

Mrs. Girard-Bujold.

Mrs. Jocelyne Girard-Bujold (Jonquière, BQ): Although the clerk informed me that the translation was not required since this material would not be official documents tabled with the committee, but rather supplementary information, I agree with Mr. St-Julien, who reminded us that this Aboriginal organization is being subsidized by the federal government and should always provide its documents in both official languages and ensure that its correspondence with departments is likewise. We have two official languages in Canada and I believe it is important to respect the principle of two official languages. Thank you.

• 0950

It is unfortunate that these documents have not been translated because we are unable to read them.

The Chairman: We do our best and the correspondence was tabled only at the last minute. We are taking your reminder very seriously and I thank you for your remarks.

Mr. Guy St-Julien: Mr. Chairman, can we have a translation of these documents within the next few days?

The Chairman: Yes, certainly.

Mr. Guy St-Julien: Thank you.

[English]

The Chair: Ms. Meakin, would you like to make a brief intervention, please?

Ms. Stephanie Meakin (Technical Adviser, Inuit Circumpolar Conference): Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Based on the information we've provided, we hope we've illustrated the need for strong domestic legislation, not only to protect Canadians here at home, but because it goes toward our ability to ensure strong international negotiations as well. We have a number of recommendations specific to our presentation.

One focuses on the lack of openness and transparency in the current Pest Control Products Act. We request that the committee make a recommendation to revise the act to allow general access to the health assessment data. This is to assure the public that their health is the primary consideration in the registration and regulation process.

Our second recommendation touches on the lack of re-evaluation of registered pesticide products currently in use in Canada. We recommend a rigorous process to re-evaluate currently registered pesticides and a five year re-evaluation of all existing new registrations.

In the case of lindane, it was first registered in 1938 and has not been re-evaluated since. That's 60 years that a pesticide has been registered in Canada, with much new evidence on its effects.

The third recommendation, on protecting the health of Canadians, is that we request revision of the act so that the evaluation process ensures toxicity assessments are made relevant to infant and childhood exposures; that we immediately ban pesticides that are or contain POPs, which end up in the Arctic; that we phase out pesticides based on human health and ecological triggers, for instance, where there is evidence that a pesticide is cancer causing, is highly toxic to wildlife, is an endocrine disrupter, or is neurotoxic to children, and that these effects should be defined as synonymous with an unacceptable risk of harm.

We request that the PCPA be amended to ensure that our domestic legislation is sufficiently enlightened to allow Canada to be a leader during international POPs negotiations. The act should be revised to include general access to health assessment data to ensure our confidence in the act. We recommend that we adopt a cumulative, aggregate, and risk-assessment approach to recognize the potential for synergy and cumulative effects among pesticides, formulants, and other environmental contaminants.

As Dr. Stone alluded to in the case of chlordane, an Inuit person could eat only one gram of muktuk because of the tolerable daily intake. That's only for one substance. There are TDIs for many of the substances.

We recommend that we implement the precautionary principle when the weight of evidence points to the potential for unacceptable risk of harm, and a decision to not register or to deregister should be immediately taken; and that we require regular reporting on health and environmental protection results and a scheduled review of the legislation, similar to CEPA.

To strengthen Canada's international negotiating positions, we invite Canada's global POPs convention chief negotiators to appear before this committee in advance of the next round of negotiations in March 2000 to explain Canada's negotiation goals, objectives, and strategy.

We request that the chair of this committee write the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance recommending that Canada reveal at the forthcoming global POPs negotiations in Bonn the financial contribution Canada's prepared to commit to implement the forthcoming convention.

• 0955

Nakungmiik. Thank you.

The Chair: Thank you.

We have a good list of people who want to ask questions, starting with Mr. Grewal, followed by Madame Girard-Bujold, Mr. Lincoln, Mr. St-Julien, and Mr. Reed, so far.

Mr. Grewal, you have five minutes.

Mr. Gurmant Grewal (Surrey Central, Ref.): Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

I join you in welcoming our witnesses. I think they have brought us a very important aspect of the lack of cooperation of the government departments.

First of all, I will refer to the correspondence that we have received today. While we respect the linguistic duality—I agree that is important for our members who don't understand English—I also would request that we receive such correspondence in advance so that members can review it, do their research, and come prepared before we ask questions. Now it's difficult for us to read and review, and we are unable to do any research on this.

But on that note, Mr. Chairman, I will go ahead. I appreciate what Mr. Fenge just said. It's absurd that when there is such a serious issue, like lindane, for example, and when we know that this is cancer-causing, is causing neurological problems in children, and is dangerous to wildlife...in regard to this kind of product, which was registered long ago, in 1938, one department should have been cooperative and should have given the information to the other department so that some scientific studies could be done and some preventive measures taken, so that there could have been some effective control.

I would still like to know, because it's not clear...I think it's PMRA...have they already released this information requested by the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs or is the issue still hanging and no information has been given to them?

That was the first question, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Fenge can probably answer first. I would like to hear from Mr. Fenge, Mr. Chairman.

Mr. Terry Fenge: Thank you for the question.

No, we have not received any information from PMRA. We certainly haven't been consulted on proposed legislative changes either.

The Chair: Mr. Moore.

Mr. James Moore: No, Mr. Chairman, we have not received any additional substantive information, particularly since the various dates of the exchanged correspondence.

Mr. Gurmant Grewal: Then, Mr. Chairman, the question is, what is the next step if this information is pertinent and important? What is being done?

Are you planning to do anything else to get this information and deal with this issue?

The Chair: Mr. Moore or Mr. Stone.

Mr. David Stone: Thank you, Chairman.

No, sir. As we understand it, we cannot be provided with the information that we requested from the PMRA because their legislation prohibits them from providing us with that information.

However, the chairman did draw your attention to a latter part of the correspondence, wherein we also asked if the PMRA had plans to re-evaluate lindane. Indeed, apparently that is underway. They are undertaking a review of lindane—a re-review of lindane.

In addition, we do understand that the new legislation is sitting there waiting to be introduced.

Mr. Gurmant Grewal: Mr. Chairman, if you will allow me, let me be candid and very clear: is it the legislation or bureaucratic bungling that prevents the information from being given to the department or is it that PMRA is trying to cover up something?

Would you like to elaborate on that?

Mr. James Moore: Mr. Chairman, I certainly would not agree or assert that PMRA is bungling or is trying to cover up anything. It is a case of the legislation.

Mr. Gurmant Grewal: Mr. Chairman—

The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Grewal. You will have another round.

Madame Girard-Bujold.

[Translation]

Mrs. Jocelyne Girard-Bujold: When I came in this morning I did not expect our witnesses to deal with so many issues. They talked about a whole range of things, including international conventions, and described what is happening in the North. As my colleague mentioned, I would have needed these documents ahead of time in order to prepare my questions to these people.

• 1000

All the issues raised by Mr. Fenge are problematic. I am at a loss to know what questions to ask in order to probe into these issues. You talked about international conventions. Before raising this subject, it would have been useful to know exactly what Canada and the United States are doing in this regard. You said that confidentiality of business information should be given precedence over the right of the public to be informed on health matters internationally. This is very serious.

I do not know if I should direct my questions to the representatives of the Department of Indian Affairs who do not seem either to be getting information from PMRA when they review pesticides.

It seems like we are in a black hole this morning, Mr. Chairman. This is unacceptable for a committee that is supposed to take its work seriously and to study serious problems. Facts are being placed in front of us and we do not know what to do.

[English]

Ms. Paddy Torsney (Burlington, Lib.): On a point of order, Mr. Chair, approximately three weeks ago we had a complete list of the witnesses who were coming before us. Anyone interested in doing some prior work on the issues that might be raised had full access to the library, to contact some of the people or to get some of the research on these issues. So rather than have “Tuesday morning let's beat up on the witnesses”, maybe we could just focus on the information they've presented and, being intelligent parliamentarians, we could just pose questions based on that information—

[Translation]

Mrs. Jocelyne Girard-Bujold: Point of order, Mr. Chairman.

[English]

Ms. Paddy Torsney: —instead of continuing this theatre—

[Translation]

Mrs. Jocelyne Girard-Bujold: I have a point of order, Mr. Chairman.

[English]

Ms. Paddy Torsney: —when in fact all the information about who was coming—

[Translation]

Mrs. Jocelyne Girard-Bujold: On a point of order, Mr. Chairman.

[English]

Ms. Paddy Torsney: —has been available for a very long time.

[Translation]

Mrs. Jocelyne Girard-Bujold: Point of order, Mr. Chairman.

The Chairman: Mrs. Girard-Bujold, please.

Mrs. Jocelyne Girard-Bujold: Mr. Chairman, I think the parliamentary secretary misunderstood completely my intervention. I do not blame the witnesses. On the contrary, I believe the information they just provided is quite extraordinary.

Madam, you need to understand that I only wish we had this information before their appearance in order to pinpoint where the problem lies.

The Chairman: We should listen to Mr. Fenge, who would like to make a comment.

Mr. Fenge.

[English]

Mr. Terry Fenge: On black holes, I've spent much of my—

Voices: Oh, oh!

Mr. Terry Fenge: I'm not being flippant here.

I've spent much of my career learning how to avoid black holes. I appreciate your comments and I feel chastised, because our job, of course, is to do the best we can to inform you.

I can say that we will do everything within our power. If you are unable to get French translations of this correspondence, which was written only in English, we will ourselves attempt to get French translations for you and to provide this information for you, because we welcome your significant statements of interest in the issue.

[Translation]

Mrs. Jocelyne Girard-Bujold: Mr. Chairman...

[English]

The Chair: Mr. Fenge, that explanation is very helpful. Certainly, if some documents that are now being circulated would have been tabled a week ago, it would have enabled the system to provide the French version and to facilitate the discussion today.

[Translation]

Thank you, Mrs. Girard-Bujold.

Mrs. Jocelyne Girard-Bujold: This is not the only point I wanted to raise, Mr. Chairman. I am sorry, but...

The Chairman: We fully agree with your comment, but I am now giving the floor to Mr. Lincoln.

[English]

Mr. Clifford Lincoln (Lac-Saint-Louis, Lib.): Mr. Fenge, on the list of recommendations regarding the proposed amendments to the Pest Control Products Act, can you tell me if you have seen the suggested outline of amendments that has been circulated by the PMRA?

Mr. Terry Fenge: I wish I could say yes, but no, we haven't received any information at all from PMRA since this correspondence and, as I said, we haven't been consulted as to what amendments may look like.

Mr. Clifford Lincoln: If we refer to your notes, to the recommendations on page 11 and also on page 13, do you agree, in regard to allowing “general access to health assessment data to assure the public”, etc., that it should be health and environmental assessment in both cases?

• 1005

Mr. Terry Fenge: Yes. Let me be very clear here. We have no interest in receiving any information relating to trade secrets. All we want to be able to do is to receive health and environmental information so that we can assure ourselves that this information has been taken fully into account in the regulatory process.

Mr. Clifford Lincoln: We understand each other. I just wanted to suggest that it should be both health and environmental assessment.

In regard to the amendments to the PCPA that you suggest on pages 12 and 13, would it surprise you to find out that none of these recommendations is contained in the suggested amendments circulated by the PMRA? In other words, there's no precautionary principle. The CBI exceptions are still there, and as far as I can see, there is no provision for cumulative and aggregate risk assessment approach.

[Translation]

Mr. Guy St-Julien: Mr. Chairman, I want to raise a point of order. I am sorry to interrupt you, Mr. Lincoln, but we should proceed immediately to the House of Commons for a vote.

The Chairman: There is no reason to suspend the meeting. Let's wait to see how things go.

Mr. Lincoln, please.

[English]

Mr. Clifford Lincoln: Do you agree that the recommendations you suggest on page 13 should be essential elements of any amendments to the PCPA, because otherwise the legislation will be mere window dressing?

Mr. Terry Fenge: I'm very disappointed to hear you say these things, Mr. Lincoln. What we've tried to do here is to provide you with a case study on lindane that would arm you, as Canadian parliamentarians, to make the case that has to be made to ensure that the forthcoming amendments are strong and that we have legislation that we can be proud of, and in particular legislation that will give the Canadian negotiating team far greater manoeuvring room in dealing with international negotiations.

So yes, if the correspondence we have brought to your attention, particularly the letter we received from Minister Rock, the Minister of Health—not a minister of economic development but the Minister of Health—telling us that we should not be allowed to have this information...if that situation is continued in the new legislation, that will be unacceptable to us.

Mr. Clifford Lincoln: Could I suggest to you that I happen to agree very strongly with you on your recommendations for amendments to the PCPA? Could I suggest to you that you write to the Ministers of Health and Environment to suggest that these be central as elements in any amendments to the legislation? I understand the legislation will be coming up soon, and without these elements in there I think the legislation will be very badly flawed.

Mr. Terry Fenge: Yes, we'd be delighted to do that.

Mr. Clifford Lincoln: Thank you.

The Chair: Thank you.

Next,

[Translation]

Mr. St-Julien.

He is not here?

[English]

Mr. Reed.

Mr. Julian Reed (Halton, Lib.): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I'm curious about the emphasis on organochlorines. Does this mean you don't have the same concerns about organophosphates, for instance, or heavy metals? Organochlorines constitute only one portion of the pesticide regime, if you like. Would you consider some of the other ones to be less offensive and more generally acceptable?

Mr. David Stone: Thank you.

May I answer that, Jim?

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In the north we're concerned with substances that have a tendency to accumulate in the north. The substances that do so are the organochlorines or the brominated organic substances. Organophosphates degrade much more rapidly. So while organophosphates might be more of a concern in southern Canada, in terms of exposure through diet to northerners, organochlorines take the priority. We are not close to an advisory level for anything else.

For heavy metals, we do have difficulties with cadmium and mercury, but they're not associated with pesticides. I didn't emphasize them in this presentation because you are considering pesticides today.

Mr. Julian Reed: As a pesticide, mercurials were in widespread use in the late fifties and early sixties. I'm curious to know if there's any perceived residual effect from those.

Mr. David Stone: Mercury is increasing in the northern environment essentially every year. This has been well documented from a number of studies. The source of that mercury is under great debate, as is whether or not there should be major concern for elemental mercury as against organic mercuries. It's the organic mercury, the methane mercury, that causes health problems.

In terms of crude mass balance, I think it's unlikely that the 1950s mercury-based pesticide preparations would be a main contributor. One of the main contributors is coal burning, particularly from China.

Mr. Julian Reed: Thank you.

[Translation]

The Chairman: Mr. St-Julien is back. Welcome, Mr. St-Julien.

Mr. Guy St-Julien: Thank you very much.

The Chairman: Do you want to ask a question?

Mr. Guy St-Julien: Yes, thank you, Mr. Chairman. My question is for Mr. Moore.

We could talk about methods for monitoring, sample gathering and analysis. My riding, Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik, covers an area of 802,000 square kilometres. The Cree of James Bay and the Inuit of Nunavik inhabit close to 500,000 square kilometres of this territory.

The problem we are facing, Mr. Chairman, is lack of funding. I have seen the documents and I know that testing is always done down South. The Kuujjuaq Research Centre, in Nunavik, lacks resources. We know that even in cases of medical emergency, test results do not become available before several days.

Why does this research centre in Kuujjuaq not get enough funding to improve its testing facilities? It is strange that the North is viewed as the area above the 50th parallel, but the coastal islands in Hudson Bay also involve Cree and the people in the villages of Chisasibi, where there are Inuit, of Wemindji, of Eastmain and Washagamis, who move around and fish off the islands of Nunavut. What funding is provided to the research centres of Nunavik, Mr. Moore?

[English]

Mr. James Moore: Thank you for that question, Mr. St-Julien.

With respect to the specific amount of budgets, I would have to get back to you with those details. More importantly, though, I think the spirit of your question relates to whether or not research centres and this whole area are in fact getting sufficient funding.

I suppose more money would allow us to do more activity. That being said, with the resources that are currently devoted to this area, in terms of information gathering, quite frankly we are doing about as good a job as we possibly can. I think we are being effective with the money that is being spent.

But I will get back to you, sir, with specifics on specific budgets.

Thank you.

[Translation]

Mr. Guy St-Julien: Mr. Chairman, I have another question for Mr. Moore. I do not deny that the department uses its money efficiently, but I am talking about the residents of Nunavik, about the Inuit and Cree of James Bay. How many hours or days does it take to gather samples and to inform the people of test results confirming the presence of a disease such as trichinosis, for instance? Why don't we have an effective laboratory in Nunavik, in Northern Quebec?

• 1015

I looked at your report on the contaminant control program. I noted that for Nunavik everything is being sent to the South. This is a very serious comment and I want you to pass it on to the Minister. In the envelope of the Department of Indian Affairs, there is almost nothing for the environment. We have in there health expenditures in the order of $1,177 billion. Mr. Chairman, it is essential to invest in human resources that will settle permanently in the laboratories of Nunavik, in Kuujjuaq. This is my message. Most things are done down South, but we forget the James Bay and Northern Quebec agreement, Mr. Chairman, and its provisions regarding the Cree and the Inuit. I fear we are missing the boat. We should invest more in order to have available permanent staffing in these laboratories, because in the 14 Inuit villages of Ungava Bay and Hudson Bay and in the Cree villages, people have to wait several days before getting their test results. If the analyses were done on the spot and if we had an effective research centre in Kuujjuaq, these delays would not happen. There is a lack of resources and it is important to remedy this situation.

The Chairman: Mr. Moore.

[English]

Mr. James Moore: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I think those are very important points that are being made. There is no doubt that we do have to consider the residents of these areas.

As far as expenditures on this kind of research are concerned, I must say that for the most part those mandates fall under other departments and not specifically Indian and Northern Affairs. But I think what's important is the point Mr. St-Julien makes. It is an important point, and it is accepted.

[Translation]

The Chairman: One last question.

Mr. Guy St-Julien: You talk about the other departments. Samples taken in Nunavik, in Ungava Bay and Hudson Bay, were sent to Newfoundland several days later to be analyzed by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. I do not understand why other departments are not listening to the people in Kuujjuaq and do not establish a better laboratory in order to improve safety for the people of Nunavik.

[English]

Mr. David Stone: The analyses done on organochlorines are very complicated. In fact, we use only about seven or eight laboratories in Canada in order to ensure that we have good quality assurance on the data.

The majority of the data that has come from Nunavik has been analysed either at the Université Laval or at McGill University.

The Chair: Thank you.

[Translation]

Thank you, Mr. St-Julien.

[English]

I understand that Mr. Mancini's question has already been asked by Mr. Lincoln.

Mr. Peter Mancini (Sydney—Victoria, NDP): Yes, that's correct, Mr. Chair.

The Chair: We can therefore move to Madame Kraft Sloan, and then we will have an adjournment for the vote.

Mr. John Herron: Given that I tabled my motion earlier, is it possible that we could take a brief moment to have a vote on our motion, prior to the other vote, just after Mrs. Kraft Sloan finishes her questioning?

The Chair: We can take a vote when we have a quorum. I'm told the presence here of voting members at the present time is not sufficient to form a quorum.

Mr. John Herron: I don't believe in premonitions per se, but I envision that changing by the time Mrs. Kraft Sloan finishes her questions.

The Chair: It depends on when she will finish her questions and whether there will be time before the vote.

Madame Kraft Sloan, please.

Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan (York North, Lib.): Thank you, Mr. Chair. I'm glad the Tories are indulging in premonitions. Now we know they're working hand in hand with the Liberals from earlier prime ministerial days from the thirties and the forties, although I'm not going to drop any names.

Anyway, I want to thank you for your testimony. I would like to reiterate something Mr. Lincoln said, and that is to send a letter off to the Minister of Health and the Minister of the Environment about your concerns. From what we have been able to see in the department's documents with regard to the new amendments to the PCPA, we're not seeing these concerns addressed. For a committee that has gone through the trials of CEPA, we know how difficult it is to amend legislation when you're talking about some really fundamental differences within that legislation, so I can't urge you enough to get your message out now and your level of concern out now. It's very important that you do that.

• 1020

The other thing I wanted to ask you about is in your brief. On page 12 you point out a concern with regard to a lack of re-evaluation of registered products. We've had a number of industry groups coming before the committee who have testified that they are constantly looking for new, less toxic alternatives to existing products. The concern that some of us have on this committee is whether or not the more toxic alternatives are de-registered when these less toxic products are registered.

For example—-

The Chair: Madame Kraft Sloan, there is a point of order from Madame Girard-Bujold.

[Translation]

Mrs. Jocelyne Girard-Bujold: You said earlier that we cannot deal with the motion of the Conservative member because we do not have a quorum. Could you tell me which members here are entitled to vote?

The Chairman: The clerk can provide this information right away, although your comment is not a point of order.

[English]

Madame Kraft Sloan, please continue.

[Translation]

Mrs. Jocelyne Girard-Bujold: Why not?

[English]

Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I also wanted to point out that the commissioner, in his report on pesticides, said that many pesticides were approved when the standards were much less stringent than they are today. We have a situation in which industry says it brings in less toxic pesticides in order to phase out the other ones, while the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development has identified a concern that pesticides were registered years ago when our standards were less stringent.

So the question I'm asking you is if you know whether products are de-registered. Do you know if industry recommends the de-registering of products because they bring out something less toxic?

Ms. Stephanie Meakin: I can't speak about all pesticides, but in the case of lindane, it was voluntarily brought by the canola growers of Canada to de-register the product based on what I can understand as economic concerns with new legislation in the States that would prohibit the importation into the States of Canadian canola seed treated with lindane. The canola growers therefore went to the PMRA and asked for a voluntary withdrawal of the registration for lindane.

When we went to PMRA to say we have health concerns with regard to lindane in the north and presented our data, I would say we certainly weren't met with any type of accommodation.

Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan: Thank you.

The other question—

The Chair: Just a moment.

[Translation]

Mrs. Jocelyne Girard-Bujold: Point of order, Mr. Chairman.

The Chairman: Mrs. Girard-Bujold, please.

Mrs. Jocelyne Girard-Bujold: The clerk handed me the list of the regular members who are here and it seems we have a quorum, Mr. Chairman. You invoked the lack of quorum to delay our consideration of the motion of the Conservative member. Since we now have a quorum, could we deal with the motion of the Conservative member?

The Chairman: I said that if we have a quorum after the questions of Mrs. Kraft Sloan, we could do it.

Mrs. Jocelyne Girard-Bujold: We have a quorum.

The Chairman: I also said that we would need enough time to do so.

[English]

Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan: I'm fine, Mr. Chair.

The Chair: I will consult with the clerk about the number of members present who are voting members.

• 1025

Mr. John Herron: Mr. Chair, I move my motion.

The Chair: I have no further questioners on the list. Therefore, in keeping with earlier discussion that we proceed with a vote, would you please read the motion?

The motion is by Mr. Herron, and it is that for its study on pesticides, the committee call the Minister and the Deputy Minister of Health as witnesses.

You've heard the motion. Are there any questions or discussion? No?

(Motion agreed to)

The Chair: We will now adjourn for the vote, and I invite the members to resume in this room immediately after the vote.

Thank you very much, Mr. Moore, Mr. Stone, Mr. Fenge, and Madame Meakin for your participation this morning. We apologize for the interruptions.

• 1026




• 1129

The Chair: We have a quorum and this meeting is now starting. Thank you for your attendance. We will proceed with limited numbers because of some disturbances and difficulties in the House, and we apologize for that to both you, Ms. Bertell, and to you, Mr. Nestmann. We hope our colleagues will gradually come back, but we don't want to keep you waiting too long, and also the hour is getting late.

We welcome you and we thank you for your patience. Perhaps you would like to indicate who wishes to go first. I understand, Mr. Nestmann, you are here representing CanTox, and that Dr. Bertell is here on behalf of the International Institute of Concern for Public Health.

Would you like to go first, Dr. Nestmann?

• 1130

Dr. Earle Nestmann (Principal, CanTox Inc.): That would be fine with me. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

The Chair: Please proceed.

Dr. Earle Nestmann: Let me just begin by outlining what I intend to go through this morning according to the outline I supplied to the committee earlier.

First of all, I'd like to provide some introduction to myself, to my background training and so forth, a description of CanTox as a company or a group of companies, and then I'd like to spend the bulk of my time talking about scientific principles for hazard assessment, exposure assessment, and risk assessment of pesticides, the methodology we use for reports and advice we provide. Finally, I wanted to provide some comments on the pesticide registration process in Canada, specifically the Pest Management Regulatory Agency, PMRA.

My graduate degrees are in biology from York University, the study of DNA repair mechanisms for my master's degree, and effective ultraviolet radiation as a mutagenic and carcinogenic agent using a model system of bacteria. For my PhD, I worked in the area of chemical and spontaneous mutagenisis and genetic toxicology. After that, I taught at York University for several years before coming to Ottawa for nine years where I worked at Health and Welfare Canada, as it was known then, in the research area of genetic toxicology within the environmental occupational toxicology division of the environmental health directorate.

Following that period of time, I went to work for Cyanamid Canada as a pesticide registration manager. It was my job to handle submissions and gain approval for new products for Cyanamid. After being there for a couple of years, I joined CanTox.

Let me tell you a little bit about CanTox. It's been described in some background information that I understand you have. There are actually two operating companies of CanTox. One is called CanTox Health Sciences International, which is the company I'm associated with. The focus of CanTox Health Sciences International is products, product approval, product registration. The focus is what's the potential toxicological or environmental impact of a product that may be in the system or about to go into the system for approval. This includes not only pesticides but pharmaceutical agents, medical devices, food additives, and other types of substances.

The other principal company is CanTox Environmental Inc., and the difference there is that CanTox Environmental Inc. focuses on issues relating to exposures that arise not specifically from products but from the environment itself. Some of my colleagues are associated with that operating company, but on a day-to-day basis I am not.

In terms of the types of projects we work on, as I alluded to briefly, some of them have to do with risk assessment of different kinds of products, and that's why I want to go through the risk assessment methodology. I understand that's the reason why I was invited to come today; it's because one of my clients had mentioned previously to the committee that we prepared a report for them.

We work for a wide variety of clients, including multinational companies, Canadian companies, government departments at all levels, municipal, provincial, and different federal departments, sometimes individuals, sometimes legal firms, trade associations, and so forth.

Moving to the scientific principles that I thought it would be useful to spend a little time on, some of these I'm sure you've become somewhat familiar with, but I thought it would serve as a good starting point. One is that the fate and biological activity of any compound are determined by its chemical properties. What happens within an organism, what happens to that chemical in the environment, depends on the nature of the chemical properties of whatever that compound may be. Pesticides sometimes seem to be lumped into a big group of chemicals that from the outside may seem to be very similar but in fact are quite diverse.

• 1135

That leads me to point number two. Pesticides are diverse collections of very different types of chemicals. I think there has been a lot of focus, for example, on the older chlorinated hydrocarbon type of chemicals, which by and large are no longer in use, at least in North America. But the properties these different chemicals have determine what they're used for, in terms of insecticides, or herbicides or fungicides, and what their fate and impact will be in target organisms, non-target organisms, and in the environment.

The third point is a point about risk. Risk is a function of both the intrinsic hazard of a substance—that is, what can that substance do—and also a function of exposure to that substance. So what is involved in risk assessment is, first of all, a detailed hazard assessment to understand what a chemical can do, what adverse effects it might have, and then a very comprehensive exposure assessment to understand to what extent an organism may be exposed to that substance. By comparing the amount of exposure to what may be a no-effect level and from the toxicology studies, you can determine if there is risk or not in a particular situation. Both are very important exercises in risk assessment, both a hazard assessment and an exposure assessment.

The fourth point is that compounds do not show adverse effects below certain threshold concentrations. What is meant by this is that there are in fact no-effect levels in toxicology studies and in risk assessment. There are thresholds above which compounds will show an adverse effect and below which they will not. There are lots of reasons for that. Some of that I'll get into in a few minutes.

The fifth point is that the magnitude of response is related to dose. Often the expression is used that it's the dose that makes the poison. Using the Arctic analogy to some extent, for example, fat-soluble vitamins are good for you if you take them in recommended quantities. But fat-soluble vitamins, if you eat polar bear liver, from what I understand, are concentrated so high that polar bear liver in great enough quantity can kill you outright. So it's the dose that makes the poison. Sometimes it's medicinal or nutritional; in other cases it's toxic.

The sixth point is that inherent metabolic processes allow organisms to accommodate exposure to chemicals. What's meant by that is our bodies and the bodies of organisms throughout evolution have been exposed to chemicals in the environment forever and have developed a number of defence mechanisms to handle, process, and sometimes repair the damage a compound may inflict. But when a compound enters a body, it's recognized as something that needs to be dealt with, whether it's a nutrient or whether it's a toxic chemical. There are metabolic processes that allow organisms to do that. Hence, going back to point number four, there are no-effect levels because compounds can deal with certain kinds of substances.

The seventh is just a point I'd like to make about eco-epidemiology and epidemiology studies. There are a number of rules that need to be followed in terms of assessing whether observations or correlations are rigorous or not. One I'd point out here is there must be biological plausibility and there must be a lot of other conditions that need to be met in order to assess risk or qualify risk from these types of observational studies.

Finally, if I can move quickly on to the PMRA, I want to make the point that, in my view, PMRA is a science-based organization, has highly trained individuals, very highly experienced people who've been there for many years who understand what pesticides are, what they do, and what a safe level is, and under what conditions pesticides can be approved and under what conditions they should not be approved.

• 1140

It's a very rigorous system that is in place at PMRA, with dozens and dozens of required studies, if not, in many cases, hundreds, if you include studies required for efficacy. So it's a very rigorous system that we have in place in Canada, and internationally it's considered to be one of the most stringent anywhere.

My last point is I would like to say that the procedures and methods and reviews that are done by PMRA appear, from my point of view anyway, to be consistent with guidelines that have been developed by international organizations and other national agencies, such as the EPA in the United States.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

The Chair: Thank you, Dr. Nestmann. It is very helpful.

Dr. Bertell, would you like to proceed?

Dr. Rosalie Bertell (President, International Institute of Concern for Public Health): Yes. You'll have to bear with me; I'm having voice problems. Right now, it seems to be leaving me.

I would like to address the difference between hazard assessment, risk assessment, and risk management. I think these are sometimes used in an imprecise way.

When you're talking about a hazard assessment, you can cover many possible end points, so you could look at the long-term hazards, the hazard of death, the hazard of cancer. You could also look at reproductive hazards, whether these are in utero or actually genetic. There are a variety of end points you could look at. It's quite broad-brushed.

Once you move to risk assessment, you have to choose a biological end point, and normally in our culture that has been cancer. In a risk assessment, you're limiting your information to research that has been developed to the point that it has a dose response. There's much research we do that tells us something's a hazard, and I thought, just to get out of the pesticide question, I'd mention something I'm sure everybody knows, and that is that a medical diagnostic X-ray is a hazard to pregnant women, it's a hazard to the fetus, and this is posted every time you go to get an X-ray. I don't think there's any question about it. On the other hand, if you asked for a risk assessment of X-ray exposure, it would not include the dose to the fetus, because in order to do a dose response for such a problem, it would have to be different for different periods, especially in the first trimester. So the damage you would do, say in week four or three, would be different from the damage in week ten and so on. This is now quantified; therefore, your risk assessment wouldn't even include it. You're dropping things when you get to risk assessment.

I should tell you a little about my background. I am a mathematician, and at the bachelor's and master's level my minors were in physics and chemistry. I have taught physics and math and biology at the university level, but I didn't get into the biology until the doctorate. At that time, I took the equivalent of a master's degree in physiology and experimental genetics and many of the biological sciences, and also biochemistry. So my background is rather broad, but I'm still coming at it as a mathematician.

I learned early on that when you come up with an answer, you have to go back and look at the input if you're really going to understand it. There are many ways to come up with a risk and say one in a hundred or one in a million, but you have to know what you're risking and what was left out of that risk, which is very important for this committee to sort out.

• 1145

A computer program requires very definite input data, and the output of the computer program depends on that input. So when you go from hazard assessment to risk assessment, in between you have to consider pathways, usually air, water, and food; you have to make assumptions when you're dealing with an environmental problem such as pesticides; you have to talk about the average direction of the wind; and you have to talk about the depth of the groundwater, the length of time it takes for something you put on the surface to get down into the groundwater. So there are all kinds of input data here of concern.

Then you have to look at the output data. What risk are we talking about? That is the most nebulous. I find usually risk is considered to be cancer and that's all, precisely because when you try to get dose response data, that's about all that's out there. So what seems to be very science-based, in fact the more you try to make it science-based and the more you depend only on published literature, the less likely you are to get a good, broad-based answer to your questions, precisely because we don't have the science. We don't have any dose response on what it takes to, say, cause an epileptic episode in a child. I don't think you can find any dose response data on that. As I said, the in utero effects are basically unquantified and can't be put into a computer.

I ran into the problem of pesticides as I led the medical commission to Bhopal for the Union Carbide disaster. That was a disaster with the pesticide Sevin, a carbamate, and it was considered a non-toxic or less toxic replacement for 2,4-D. It's now fifteen years after, but ten years after the disaster, the people said they were still suffering from the effects of that exposure. At the time, both Union Carbide and the Government of India tried to do a risk assessment. Well, of course there's no literature telling you what happens ten years after a major disaster such as that, so the answer was there's no evidence to say there's still an effect, which was quite a happy piece of information for Union Carbide.

The medical commission had a total budget of $50,000. We took thirteen physicians and scientists into Bhopal for a month and did a very tight, low-budget, small study to see whether or not the health effects we could see then were connected with the experience ten years before. It was successful, but it was successful because we looked at the people and not at the literature. The literature was non-existent.

I will provide this for the committee. I brought the publication, which was in the British Medical Journal. It was awarded the outstanding research award for 1997. It did make the connection between what people were suffering and what had happened ten years ago.

I bring that in as an example, because many problems can be solved, but they need to be solved with feedback. We need to look at the people, the animals, and the environment, and we need that feedback, not just scientists reading papers and deciding whether or not these papers are adequate. You need to have actual feedback from reality; otherwise you get further and further from the truth.

• 1150

I think there's another problem, and that is when you try to do a risk assessment and when you try to set—as I think Dr. Nestmann was saying—some low levels of the pesticide or hazardous material below which there is no effect, in the first place, you have to define “effect”. What effect are you looking at? You might get a level below which you find no stomach disorder, but you might find a skin disorder. When you say that, you have to specify what that effect is that you're looking at.

There's an attempt in trying to computerize these risk analyses to use regulations that were developed for the workplace, and in the workplace you have a kind of specialized environment. In the first place, it's closed, if it's an indoor workplace. Secondly, there are a limited number of toxic chemicals present; whereas in our environment, you tend to deal with a soup mixture of pollutants.

The main difference is that a worker is usually an adult male with a well-developed immune system. They work in the workplace for eight hours. Then they have a respite period outside of the workplace in a non-toxic environment. Now if you contrast that to, say, a child in a home where pesticides are used generously, the child is in the home 24 hours, he doesn't get a respite, and the immune system is not developed.

Children are not just little adults; they're not scaled down. They have a different physiology, different lifestyle, different bio-uptake characteristics, and undeveloped or partially developed immune systems. So we're dealing here with some very complicated questions, and I would encourage you to take a very broad approach and put your emphasis on hazard assessment, not risk assessment.

Thank you.

The Chair: Thank you very much for bringing to the committee, Dr. Bertell, a very important distinction that we may want to explore during questions. The list is fairly long. It starts with Mr. Grewal, followed by Mr. Lincoln, Madame Kraft Sloan, Mr. Mancini, and Monsieur Bachand.

Mr. Grewal, would you like to start? You have five minutes, please.

Mr. Gurmant Grewal: Sure. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I appreciate the testimony by our witnesses, and I listened with particular interest to your work in Bhopal, India, after the Union Carbide mishap. I think that was a good learning experience for the international community, as well as for the experts, to find ways to make sure it doesn't happen again.

You also mentioned that children have a different physiology, different lifestyle, and different immune system, and that the tolerance level to chemicals for children and women is definitely different from average adults, generally the average male adult. I would like to ask how you respond to Health Canada's claim that sensitive populations such as women and children are already taken into account when maximum residue limits for pesticides are established.

Dr. Rosalie Bertell: There are two answers. One is when we did this study in Bhopal, we discovered to our surprise that—and we did it 10 years after the accident—when we looked at the people who were 20 to 40 years old, compared to those 40 to 60 years old; now, you have to go back and say they were 10 to 30 years old and 30 to 50 years old at the time of the disaster. We discovered that the health damage was higher in the younger group than in the older group. That means that there was something in terms of the capability of the host, and the younger exposures were more damaging.

• 1155

When I looked at the computer program that CanTox uses, which is supposed to take into consideration the sensitivity of women and children, pregnant women, and so on, they were basing it on what we call chemical sensitivity. In the workplace, if you work with the same chemical over a long period of time, you develop a sensitivity to that chemical. That's why some companies rotate occupations and they move people to different departments—so they don't deal with the same chemical all the time.

It was that type of chemical sensitivity measured in the workplace that is the sensitivity CanTox was using in order to say they were taking care of a sensitive part of the population.

Mr. Gurmant Grewal: May I interrupt, because my time is limited?

When we talk about sensitivity, these days we talk a great deal about genetically manufactured foods. There are varieties developed that are more tolerant to pesticides, because genetically they alter the composition of the crop to tolerate more concentration of chemicals. Hypothetically, if the crop were not GM, and the tolerance level of the chemical were 10 units—hypothetically—for a particular pesticide, when we develop the tolerant variety it could absorb 25 units of the pesticide and not be damaged, although all the weeds would be.

Do you think this would have an adverse effect on children and women because the amount of pesticides sprayed on the crop would be absorbed by the crop and might in return be transmitted down the food chain in the consumption of foods? Do you think in this hypothetical example the increased tolerance level of the crop would adversely affect—which probably no one would detect—the absorption of the chemicals by children and women?

Dr. Rosalie Bertell: First of all, when you say tolerance level, it's to massive damage or major damage. Even below the tolerance level there will be damage. Whether or not you care depends on whether you're the victim or the person who's polluting. I think this is a very dangerous experiment with human beings, to be using a pesticide like that. Just because the plant has been modified to resist the pesticide doesn't mean humans were modified to resist the pesticide. So it's a very dangerous experiment with human beings. In a university setting, for example, such an experiment would not be permitted. It would violate the human experimentation rules.

The Chair: Dr. Nestmann would you like to comment briefly, please?

Dr. Earle Nestmann: Yes, I'd like to have a chance to address what I think is a very interesting question, your second one, which of course is related to the first one in terms of methodology to protect women and children when setting pesticide tolerances or maximum residue limits.

Let me just say that the methodology we use in our risk assessment is the same as is used internationally and by PMRA to address that question specifically, because often children are the most sensitive receptors, and we identify them as the most sensitive receptors in our risk assessments. We base our risk assessments on the basis of whether the child or the pregnant woman may be the most sensitive receptor.

The way to do this, in terms of the information that's available to PMRA, for example, is that the studies are not done only for cancer, as Dr. Bertell has pointed out. The reason that sometimes the focus is on cancer is because that's the most sensitive end point, in terms of getting a no-effect level and the very lowest tolerance possible. Sometimes it's based on cancer, because that's the most sensitive, the lowest number you can get.

But the studies are also done on developing animals. They are tested in utero, so that every day of the gestation period the young are exposed to the chemical. So you have information available to set the tolerances based on these studies using those sensitive end points.

The Chair: Thank you.

We can go on with Mr. Lincoln.

• 1200

Mr. Clifford Lincoln: My questions will be for Dr. Nestmann.

I'm sorry, Dr. Nestmann, that you didn't produce an actual brief today but only an outline of a brief, because it's hard to question you without a brief before us.

At the same time, though, I saw a brief that CanTox prepared for the Urban Pest Management Council of Canada. Do you know about this brief?

Dr. Earle Nestmann: Yes, I believe I know which one you're talking about.

Mr. Clifford Lincoln: Okay. This one is before me. First of all, who is the major international chemical producer that you used to be involved with?

Dr. Earle Nestmann: That's Cyanamid Canada. It's part of the American Cyanamid company.

Mr. Clifford Lincoln: I must say that when I read the Urban Pest Management brief that CanTox prepared, it seems in total contradiction to what we've heard here from a host of witnesses. For instance, that brief says:

    ...pesticides commonly used for agricultural, home and garden use belong to chemical families that are not toxic to humans or animals under conditions of recommended use, do not pose a cancer risk to humans and do not accumulate in the environment.

Have you heard or seen the brief by the Minister of Technology and Environment from P.E.I.?

Dr. Earle Nestmann: No, I have not seen that.

Mr. Clifford Lincoln: What happened in P.E.I. is that in one summer alone they found 10,000 fish dead. The minister testified the other day:

    It appears that the pesticides involved in the fish kills were applied according to the label directions. There was no evidence collected to the contrary.

There have been a number of pesticide-related fish kills. There were four pesticide-related fish kills in the five years between 1994 and 1998. In the summer of 1999, there were eight pesticide-related fish kills. In one summer alone there were 10,000 fish killed.

In the report from the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, he talks about carbofuran, which was registered—and is still registered in liquid form—for corn and potatoes. It has now been delisted for granular use. The PMRA itself, in a study they conducted very recently, estimated that 109,000 to 958,000 birds in Canada were killed by carbofuran each year.

Then there's aqua-kleen, which, again, the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development makes reference to, a herbicide that is used in irrigation canals, and which, by the admission of the PMRA itself, kills fish. These are irrigation canals, which obviously irrigate crops that get into the food chain.

And then I see in the brief to the Urban Pest Management Council of Canada from your organization that there are several references to children.

Are children exposed to herbicides from lawn and park spraying? The reply from your group is:

    On the few occasions each year that children may be playing on a freshly sprayed lawn, the potential exposure is so small as to be negligible.

Another question is, does very low-level intermittent exposure pose a health risk to children? Again, you dismiss that as potentially very negligible or less.

Again, is there a link between pesticide exposure and Alzheimer's or Parkinson's or breast cancer or...? Oh, no, they say, “There's no conclusive evidence”. But yet again before us, the College of Family Physicians put out a brief in which they refer to the National Research Council and the National Academy of Sciences in the United States, where they cite a whole host of references.

• 1205

The Chair: Mr. Lincoln, I hate to interrupt you, but your time is almost up. What is your question?

Mr. Clifford Lincoln: How can you, Dr. Nestmann, put out a brief like this that gives the information to families, to parents, to people living in homes, and to the citizens at large that pesticides are just okay; that if we use them according to the label, they're fine; that they don't pose a toxic risk or produce breast cancer; that they don't do anything wrong to human beings and the environment, when the evidence is so overwhelming to the contrary? I find that just terrible, sorry to say. I don't know what you feel about it, but I think it's completely out of line.

The Chair: Dr. Nestmann, please.

Dr. Earle Nestmann: You've raised many issues. I'm glad I had the opportunity to say the few things I did at the beginning. What we have to be very careful about when we're talking about pesticides, as I said before, is that there are many, many different kinds of pesticides, and I don't want to compare apples and oranges.

The quote you have there with regard to lawn chemicals is absolutely the truth. PMRA has the same opinion. Other people have other opinions perhaps, but the scientific authorities worldwide, who know what the evidence is, would agree with my statement that these lawn chemicals are not going to cause the things some activists may suggest. You can't compare those chemicals to chemicals used in P.E.I. that kill fish.

Mr. Clifford Lincoln: It refers to not just home and garden use but agricultural, home, and garden use. That's what your statement says.

Dr. Earle Nestmann: I don't have it in front of me, but I believe the context of that is 2,4-D, which is not something that's going to kill fish. Carbofuran absolutely will kill birds. It's a restricted compound. It's an insecticide. It's not something people use in their gardens. So I beg to differ with you in terms of making generalizations about pesticides. You can't do that.

Mr. Clifford Lincoln: It's about human health. It doesn't refer to lawn care only. It refers to agriculture. It talks about what type of testing of pesticides is done in Canada with regard to human health. Carbofuran is now used in potatoes and corn, which we eat. Your brief here, which I have in front of me, talks about agriculture as well, not just lawns.

The Chair: Mr. Nestmann, briefly.

Dr. Earle Nestmann: I stand by the statements that are in the brief, and the context in which the use and the exposure levels have been studied. For the carbofuran on potatoes, if that's a permitted use—and I'm not even sure if that's a permitted use for carbofuran—there will be a tolerance set, as a member mentioned before, in terms of a safe food use for people to consume. It's not a compound that's used on a lawn where children are going to be playing. So I think you have to be careful, first of all, about what types of pesticides you're talking about, what they're used for, and the level of exposure.

There's a tremendous difference in hazard, as Dr. Bertell has pointed out. Emphasis on hazard is important. You need to do a hazard assessment. At what level does carbofuran kill something? It involves minuscule amounts. What about 2,4-D? It's litre quantities before you get a side effect of any kind. So they're not equivalent by any stretch of the imagination.

Mr. Clifford Lincoln: What about the aggregate effect?

The Chair: Madam Kraft-Sloan, you have five minutes, please.

Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan: Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

I think Dr. Bertell also pointed out that some of these risk assessments are not based on looking at the full range of possible problems. When information is left out and data are left out, the substance has been identified as not causing a problem, so therefore it's safe.

I wanted to ask you a question, Dr. Nestmann. It's my understanding that on your website for CanTox Environmental, it says:

    CanTox Environmental recognizes that a well-managed environmental risk program can have a healthy influence on a client's financial success. As such, CanTox Environmental is willing to assume some of the liability of such programs in return for a share of the benefits.

• 1210

I'm wondering if you can elaborate for the committee on what these financial arrangements are with your clients. What liabilities are you referring to? What benefits might be associated with a well-managed environmental risk program? Most particularly, what kind of benefits does CanTox receive for doing these studies?

Dr. Earle Nestmann: I would be happy to answer the question if I knew more about the particular citation you're quoting. As I mentioned before, I'm associated with the operating company CanTox Health Sciences International, not CanTox Environmental Inc., so I know only vaguely about those kinds of arrangements. I don't know about it first-hand. It's not something that I feel comfortable making comments on to the committee.

Furthermore, as I mentioned before, I came here prepared to talk about risk assessment methodology in the context of pesticides, and that's what I'd like to try to focus on.

Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan: Mr. Chair, I think it's important to note that this is the same company. I think it's also important for committee members to understand what kind of financial arrangement this company is entering into when it takes on a client, particularly when we have had witnesses come before the committee who are quoting their documents as independent scientific documents and we're not entirely clear what the financial arrangement is.

I think Mr. Nestmann should submit to the committee, through the appropriate individual at CanTox, exactly what these financial arrangements are and what kind of benefits accrue. I would suggest that if they are going to receive a percentage of the profit from a product for helping the company manage the environmental risk, etc.... Are they indeed acting independently or is there a conflict of interest here?

The Chair: Mr. Nestmann, would you like to comment?

Dr. Earle Nestmann: I would be pleased to submit to the committee something along those lines. I will speak to my CanTox Environmental colleagues about that.

Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan: Thank you.

The Chair: Thank you.

[Translation]

Madam Girard-Bujold, I am sorry, but you had suggested that Mr. Bachand use your time. I will then give the floor to Mr. Mancini and Mr. Herron.

Mr. Bachand, go ahead, please.

Mr. Claude Bachand (Saint-Jean, BQ): My questions are for Dr. Bertell. I have read your biographical sketch and I see that you worked for international medical commissions in Bhopal and Chernobyl. I also understand that you are a Grey Nun. Allow me to say that I am a great friend of your congregation, to whom I would ask you to relay my best wishes.

I also note that you are very interested in the indigenous people of developing countries. Since I am the official spokesperson for the Bloc Québécois on native issues, I would like to briefly discuss this with you.

Is the situation of indigenous peoples internationally similar to that of native peoples living in Canada? In other words, has your research work shown that, generally, indigenous peoples have poorer health than the general population, as is the case here in Canada? Compared with the general Canadian population, a much higher number of native people suffer from diabetes, alcoholism and addiction to cigarettes. I was unfortunately unable to be here earlier this morning for the presentation of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, but I know that the Inuit Tapirisat is also extremely concerned about the contamination of the food chain in the Far North.

I would like to hear your views on this, in the context of a comparison between indigenous peoples throughout the world and Canada's native peoples. In your opinion has the Pest Management Regulatory Agency, appearing before us today, done a good job of eliminating this pollution and protecting the health of native peoples?

[English]

Dr. Rosalie Bertell: Thank you for those questions.

• 1215

When the main culture sets the laws, I think they set them by their own lifestyle characteristics, and very often the indigenous people use the environment differently. I would say, for example, that when dominant culture sets a pollution level for, say, grass, they consider that grass is not going to be used for anything. But native people burn grass in their ceremonies, so whatever pollutant is in the grass is distributed to all the people around the circle; it can be at a very high toxic level for use in that way.

We set it all by our uses, by how we do it, and any other cultural use of the environment is not considered. There are other things that come to mind. For example, chronic exposure to uranium is known to exacerbate any kind of diabetic problem and it increases the amount of sugar in urine, but we usually use uranium only...because we look at it as causing lung cancer. All of these other things happen in the environment, and especially to indigenous people, who live closer to the environment and use it differently, who eat the fish and who hunt and so on. They are differentially affected.

This is built into the way we do business. It's not comprehensive enough. We're not looking at enough end points. We're not looking at enough lifestyles. We're not looking at enough pathways by which the hazard reaches the people. It's a very simplistic kind of science we're doing. I think, as even Dr. Nestmann mentioned, the literature has to be there, which means we have to fund the research. We don't fund the research and the literature's not there, so it doesn't happen; we forget about it.

[Translation]

Mr. Claude Bachand: May I ask a supplementary question?

The Chairman: Yes.

Mr. Claude Bachand: I would like you to answer my question regarding the Pest Management Regulatory Agency. In listening to your answers, I got the impression that you do not place very much trust in the Agency. It seems your preference would be that more money be invested in research.

[English]

Dr. Rosalie Bertell: It's not a personal condemnation. What I'm saying is, I don't believe in sitting in an office and reading papers. I think you'd have to go out and see the situation. I know I've been fooled on occasion; when I went to see what was really happening in the real world, it wasn't the same as it was on the piece of paper. You really need feedback—and you need reality feedback.

The Chair: Dr. Nestmann, please.

Dr. Earle Nestmann: If I may add to that answer, the PMRA, it's true, sits in offices and at desks and reads papers, but they take advantage of all of the field studies and all of the observational studies, analyses, and so forth that have been done, certainly those that are published and even those that are not published. It's not as if they are limited by the fact that they're not actually present at a site.

You can go to a site and look around, but you can't measure by looking around what the residue of a pesticide or some other agent may be in the soil or in the food. That needs to be determined by chemical analysis. Those papers are readily available to PMRA and they avail themselves of them because they need to know—and they want to know—about every scrap of information that's available.

[Translation]

The Chairman: Thank you, Mr. Bachand.

Mr. Mancini, followed by Mr. Herron.

[English]

Mr. Peter Mancini: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Dr. Nestmann, thank you for coming. It was my motion that brought you here today, based on the brief that was presented by the Urban Pest Management Council, to which Mr. Lincoln has referred. I'm glad you're here. I said when I requested that you come here that I'm a lawyer and we lawyers have an old maxim: we go to the best evidence. Now that you're here, I hear that not only did you do the work for the Urban Pest Management Council, but you also do work for multinational corporations and the federal Department of Health. Am I right?

• 1220

Dr. Earle Nestmann: That's right.

Mr. Peter Mancini: So a great deal of the information that we've received probably comes from your company.

As has been referred to by Mr. Lincoln, the Urban Pest Management Council states that low-level, intermittent exposure to herbicides does not pose a health risk to children. That's based on your analysis, and I understand that some of that analysis is based on tests done to highly exposed populations—for example, workers, as referred to by Ms. Bertell. Is there not a contradiction in using highly exposed workers as a basis for stating that low-level exposures to herbicides do not pose a threat to children?

Dr. Earle Nestmann: The question presupposes that that's what we do, but that's not what we do. We don't only rely on information about highly exposed workers in occupational settings, although in some cases that's the only kind of information that's available on hazard: What does a particular high exposure to a chemical cause? What does it do in humans? Typically, those aren't experiments. You don't do experiments like that, so you rely on toxicological data using animals, but sometimes the only human evidence you have comes from the workplace. You use that for what it's worth, and you use the toxicology studies for what they're worth.

In this particular case, in terms of the “negligible exposure”, there were extensive studies done at the University of Guelph by Professor Gerry Stephenson. What he did was take commercially available formulations of phenoxy herbicides lawn care products, spray them on lawns, and then invite student volunteers to roll on the grass, walk barefoot, kneel, or whatever. They took samples from those people in the form of blood sample swabs, urine samples, and so forth, to see what kind of uptake had in fact taken place from that kind of exposure. The exposure levels were very low.

Mr. Peter Mancini: In doing those studies, does that incorporate a child's sensitivity to pesticides? I'm not a scientist, so that's why I'm asking you these questions. We've already heard Ms. Bertell talk about the fact that they are not little adults. In those kinds of tests, do they calculate body weight, food intake, growth rates, the multiplication factor, the “soup mix”, as it has been referred to, of all of these herbicides taken together? Are all of those factors taken into account to ensure the children are protected from possible risks, as a precautionary measure?

Dr. Earle Nestmann: That's a very good question, and I think it's at the crux of the matter of what you have before you here.

In a study like that, the answer is that it doesn't take into account any unique qualities of children. The purpose of that study is simply to do an exposure assessment: What can people be exposed to?

What you do on the other side of the coin, as I mentioned before in my preliminary comments, is a detailed, comprehensive hazard assessment to see what the evidence is that allows you to deduce the extent to which children may be more sensitive or less sensitive to a particular exposure. You take into account their food consumption, which on a body weight basis is higher; that their metabolism is different; and that there can be a difference in sensitivity. Those types of data are gleaned from all the toxicology studies that are done using young animals in various stages of their lives.

So, you're right, the exposure study doesn't take that into account, but there's a body of evidence from which you can deduce those conclusions that you need in order to do your risk assessment ultimately.

The Chair: Thank you, Dr. Mancini.

We could have a quick second round, if you will first allow me to ask a brief question of Dr. Bertell.

• 1225

Dr. Bertell, could you elaborate on point 4 in your brief? It is rather important. You say:

    Health Risk Assessment requires identification of a biological endpoint, and provision of detailed dose-response information. If this is not available,

—you go on to say—

    as is the case for many health effects, it cannot be included in a Health Risk Assessment.

Could you elaborate on this with some examples, and also explain what is a “biological endpoint”, please?

Dr. Rosalie Bertell: When we use the term “risk”, we usually don't finish it. It's always a risk of something. Unless you know what that endpoint is, it really doesn't mean much to say there's no risk. People take it and say there's no risk of anything hurting them, but that's not true.

For example, I remember when we were dealing with some backyard pollution in the Scarborough part of Toronto. I was able to establish that the pollution, which was measured as in the backyards, was also in the children, because we did urinalysis and found it in the children. I thought that was a pretty good connection, but we also showed that the children had changes in their blood parameters. In an ordinary white blood count, things were not normal. I was told there was no reason to believe that that non-normal blood change was serious. That wasn't considered a serious endpoint. That's what I mean.

A lot of these things have effects. They affect the central nervous system. They could cause an epileptic attack in a child who already has epilepsy. They can change your blood parameters and make you more susceptible to the flu or infectious diseases. There are a lot of things that can happen. Some kinds of exposures can cause anemia, for example, which then has a whole sequela for children. But unless this was the endpoint of the risk analysis, it's not included.

When you say “risk”, you mean risk of something. You really have to know the biological endpoint or you don't know what the person is saying. It doesn't include anything that's not that endpoint.

The Chair: Thank you.

Dr. Nestmann.

Dr. Earle Nestmann: I just wanted to make a comment to follow up on that point, going back to the methodology that's used to determine what is an accepted level of a pesticide.

Pesticides by their nature are intended to do things. They're intended to kill things or control things. They're pest control agents. They're considered very seriously. In terms of risk assessment to determine how much exposure you can get through either the diet or other pathways, what is done are all the studies—and I mentioned before that there are dozens of different toxicology studies that are done on the material. Every one of those studies should have what's called a no-effect level, a level at which there's no effect. Then, if you get a change in the blood parameter or something else in the experimental animals, that's an effect. You have to go to one lower dose, to a no-effect level, in each one of the studies that is done on the candidate pesticide.

What you do then is look at all those different NOELs—they're called that, no observable effect level—and you take the absolutely lowest one. As I said before, it's often cancer, because that often will be the lowest number possible. It would be a lower number than for what was found as a NOEL in the reproductive study, in the chronic study or whatever. That lowest NOEL, which represents the most conservative of all the toxicology databases, typically is then divided by two uncertainty factors of ten each, or usually what we call a safety factor of a hundred, to come up with what would be considered an acceptable level. So already you're dealing with a hundred-fold less than a no-effect level in animal studies in order to come up with a benchmark level to talk about human exposure. It's a very conservative process.

As for going forward and doing backyard comparisons and so forth, these kinds of data exist. They're on databases for the EPA and Health Canada, and they're called the exposure limits for those types of compounds.

• 1230

The Chair: Thank you Dr. Nestmann.

Dr. Bertell.

Dr. Rosalie Bertell: If we assume that's true, and that in the perfect world you've got all the evidence on all possible end points, then these other end points should serve as early warnings. So, for example, if we saw an exposure that caused changes in blood, that should send up a red flag to say that's well above the level that causes cancer, and therefore we should be excited.

However, it doesn't work that way. It said, this is nothing, this is not important. When your child has epileptic attacks when they're exposed to something.... That's how we knew about the Love Canal, through children who had epileptic attacks, and nobody paid any attention.

If this system really works, then you have to have levels where flags are set off, and these are generally not recognized in society as even important.

The Chair: Thank you, Dr. Bertell. We have Mr. Mancini and Madam Kraft Sloan, and then we'll adjourn.

Mr. Peter Mancini: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I go back, Dr. Nestmann, to a couple of questions, because in the concluding remarks in your presentation, you were complementary of the PMRA. You said they were a science-based organization, highly trained, and used, I think, scientific methodology consistent with the EPA in the United States.

I have read statements from the United States, in particular, from the American Cancer Society—and I think there's been reference made here that cancer is the lowest risk rate—in a document called Warning: The Use Of Pesticides May Be Hazardous To Your Health. In that statement, the American Cancer Society says 95% of pesticides used on residential lawns are considered probable or possible carcinogens by the EPA.

And yet in your concluding remarks, we hear that the PMRA, which uses the same scientific evidence, consistent with the EPA, doesn't apparently think so. Certainly your company doesn't, in the evidence that's come before us in other groups.

Can you tell me how the scientific methodology can create two opposite conclusions on pesticide safety in the environment—the CanTox methodology and that used by the American Cancer Society?

Dr. Earle Nestmann: That's a very interesting question, a very good question, because what it does is point at a hazard classification system that's used by the EPA to classify carcinogens. That's a hazard classification system, and according to studies that are done.... I've mentioned how these studies are done. Every carcinogenicity study that's done is done at very high doses. It incorporates low doses, but it also incorporates high doses. The reason for doing that is to achieve what they call a “maximum tolerated dose”. In other words, you have to make sure that the animals are responding to the chemical.

You do these studies for a lifetime with rodents—two years is their normal lifetime. What happens in these high-dose studies is that there are rodents that have a high level of spontaneous cancer in any event; they have many different types of cancer. In some instances, they'll have an elevated rate of incidence of cancer due to the high-dose effect. Sometimes it's because of the compound causing cancer. But sometimes it's an elevation of a cancer that occurs spontaneously in the rodents.

The way the EPA will look at that is they will say it is a possible human carcinogen, because it caused an elevation of cancer in rodents. So automatically it puts it in that hazard category. That's where that comes from. The EPA office of pesticides will take that information and all the other information that it has at its hand and make a decision about whether that compound can be used in the marketplace or not. In the examples you've used, they are in the United States' marketplace. They're used on lawns and so forth, even though their hazard classification scheme says they're a possible human carcinogen.

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There are also probable carcinogens, which typically are not allowed, and proven carcinogens in their classification scheme. So if it's a proven human carcinogen, it's not going to be approved as a pesticide.

Mr. Peter Mancini: But does the PMRA use the same methodology or do they use something different? Let me ask you this way: does CanTox use the same methodology or something different? The evidence of the group that came before us, and it's been referred to by Mr. Lincoln, said—and you've explained that—the use of pesticides is not a carcinogen; it's relative, it's safe. And we have another methodology that says something completely different. So which one should the PMRA adopt?

Dr. Earle Nestmann: Let me try to make it clear that we're all using the same methodology. PMRA is using the same methodology as EPA is and coming to the same conclusion. What PMRA doesn't do is publish a list of a hazard classification scheme the way EPA does. That's the only difference. But they're using the same methodology, the same data, and coming to the same conclusions most of the time.

Mr. Peter Mancini: Thank you.

The Chair: Thank you.

Madame Kraft Sloan, and then we'll conclude.

Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I'm wondering, if a chemical company wants to have a pesticide registered through the PMRA, then CanTox would do the risk assessment work for the company. Is that correct?

Dr. Earle Nestmann: It's not exactly correct. There are different things we might do for a company.

Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan: Could you spell those out for the committee, please?

Dr. Earle Nestmann: The pesticide companies that attempt to get their products registered and do get their products registered through PMRA typically have the regulatory experience and the regulatory people to put the submissions together, get things before the PMRA, and get the right questions asked, answered, and so forth.

What we might do in certain cases is...just to use some examples, after a pesticide has been approved, it's on the market and so forth, publications may come out in the open literature that are in disagreement with the data the company has generated on that pesticide. So we might be asked to take a look at that published information and try to explain what the difference is between their methodology, if any, and the company methodology, in terms of whether this is something new, something of concern, what should we do to clarify that position, and that sort of thing. But we're usually not doing risk assessments per se to help get products approved in Canada. That's not what we're normally asked to do.

Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan: So the companies themselves have individuals within the companies who do the risk assessment, or do they contract that work out?

Dr. Earle Nestmann: They do both, I would say, but I would say by and large they would do that internally.

Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan: Do you do contract work for the federal government?

Dr. Earle Nestmann: Yes, we do.

Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan: What is the nature of that work?

Dr. Earle Nestmann: Some of it is risk assessment work that we've done. One example that comes to mind is in a case of a medical device for Health Canada, an actual risk assessment on a chemical. That material was found to be able to be leached out of a medical device material and people could be exposed to it, so we examined the potential impact on human health from that. That's one example.

We work for the Department of National Defence assisting them in putting together submissions and assessing information for new drug applications they want to put forward in Canada. We've worked for Environment Canada to help establish certain standards for solvent release in the environment. Human Resources Development Canada did some projects on whether there were any potential unique issues regarding biotechnology in the workplace.

Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan: Have you done any work on risk assessment for the PMRA?

Dr. Earle Nestmann: No.

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Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan: I wanted to refer to the document that was submitted by the commissioner last year with regard to the PMRA itself, and you have said throughout our meeting today that you have a great deal of confidence in the PMRA, with their scientists, etc. The Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development has indicated that there are concerns, and a lot of those have to do with management issues. For example, the commissioner has stated that they have failed to establish a risk reduction policy for the management of pesticides, that they need to properly reflect commitments the federal government made with regard to its pollution prevention strategy, and it has yet to really implement the toxic substance management policy as well.

I'm wondering what your feelings are on this, and, Dr. Bertell, I'd ask you if you have some comments as well.

Dr. Earle Nestmann: I'd be pleased to comment on that question. I believe everything you've pointed out falls within the purview of the PMRA in terms of some of these policies and some of the programs that need to take place.

That has to be done at the same time with limited resources and limited staff and so forth. And with the ongoing registration/reregistration process, there are research permits every year, and every registration expires after five years and has to be reregistered. So it is a tremendous responsibility the PMRA has, and there are a number of programs you've pointed out that they're responsible for.

I don't know the details of who manages what and how many people are there, but common sense tells you that you have a PMRA with maybe a couple of hundred people administering the pest management program for Canada. You go to the United States and look at the size of the EPA program and it's more than ten times bigger. It doesn't have any more active ingredients, or has only a few more active ingredients, to deal with than Canada does, and so forth.

So I would venture to guess that the reason there is a problem, if there is problem, if there's a perceived problem, is a matter of resources and time.

Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan: The reality here is that these aren't add-on programs; these are fundamental to the operation of the department. We're talking about pollution prevention, we're talking about risk reduction, and we're talking about toxic substance management policy, which all ministers and departments have signed onto.

Dr. Bertell.

The Chair: You're asking a bit too much for Dr. Nestmann to comment on from the outside.

Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan: I realize that.

The Chair: Dr. Bertell, would you like to conclude this meeting with your comments, please?

Dr. Rosalie Bertell: Yes. I think you've brought up the third leg—we haven't talked much about this—hazard assessment, risk assessment, and risk management. So management is trying to mitigate the effects of what you decide to go ahead with, which is basically hazardous.

The risk management that's usually promoted as the easiest and the cheapest is avoidance. So many of our risk management programs are “Stay away from it”—some length of time or space considerations. Much of our cancer prevention is the same thing: don't smoke, don't eat fatty foods, don't sit in the sun. These are all avoidance mechanisms that don't really deal with the basic problems.

So I think we have to take a look at the hazard in the first place and try to minimize use of anything hazardous, because once you let it out into the environment, you have no control over it. It gets into the air, the food, the water, and many of these things are long-lived. They don't biodegrade, so your best protection is to stop it at the source.

The Chair: With that very wise conclusion, we'll adjourn.

We thank you very much, Dr. Bertell and Dr. Nestmann, for the information you gave us and for the very useful guidance. We hope to see you again.

The meeting is adjourned.