Good morning. Thank you, Madam Chair, and members of the committee for the opportunity to appear today. As mentioned, my name is Bob Masterson. I am president and CEO of the Chemistry Industry Association of Canada, also known as CIAC. I am joined today by CIAC's vice-president, public affairs, Pierre Gauthier.
Our organization, CIAC, is the voice of Canada's chemistry industry. That's a $54-billion a year industry in Canada. We're the fourth-largest manufacturing sector and the second-largest manufacturing exporter. Our members take Canada's natural resources—renewable and non-renewable—and create products that provide solutions to Canada and the world's pressing problems of clean air, clean water, clean energy, and safe, nutritious, and abundant food.
Many of you won't know, but for more than 30 years Canada's chemistry sector has been at the forefront of the journey towards responsible and sustainable chemical manufacturing. In 1985, we founded Responsible Care, and that's now practised in 62 countries worldwide.
Through Responsible Care, we've delivered real results. We've worked very hard and we have reduced emissions of toxic substances, those on CEPA, schedule 1, by more than 90% since 1992. We've also reduced absolute greenhouse gas emissions from our operations by more than two-thirds through product and process re-engineering.
From the earliest days, our industry and our association have been and remain full and productive partners in the development and delivery of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, and the accompanying chemicals management plan.
I hope to have the opportunity to return at later dates to speak on some of the other aspects of the committee's work, but today I am going to focus my remarks solely on your review of Canada's approach to the chemicals management plan. The timely action to reduce risks from toxic substances is important for the health of Canadians and our environment. By providing such action, the government and industry can also improve Canadians' confidence in the broad array of chemicals that play very important roles in our everyday lives. We are here to tell you today one key message. The chemicals management plan has been and remains on course to be a stunning public policy success.
We see three factors that have contributed to the success of the chemicals management plan.
Number one, appropriate resources have been allocated. The plan has been implemented according to the plan, and with external expert advice from some of the people in the room with you today.
Number two, we believe it's a model use of public and private resources to create effective public policy.
Number three, we also note that it fully integrates, under many processes, multi-stakeholder, multi-jurisdictional, and multi-departmental actions to manage toxic substances in Canada.
It is our strongly held view that the CMP is achieving its objectives and it's on track to success. It originated from the 1999 amendments to CEPA, which mandated the evaluation and appropriate risk management of over 23,000 substances on the domestic substances list. At the time, it was known that this would require years of work and sustained resources and attention by government, industry, and other stakeholders.
By 2006, Canada completed the first important phase of that work, categorizing the more than 23,000 substances on that list. That was no small feat, and Canada was the first country in the world to complete that exercise. That categorization exercise was especially important because it then allowed government, industry, and other stakeholder groups to focus priority, attention, and resources on the scientific assessment and appropriate risk management of the 4,300 priority substances that were categorized as both being present in the economy and that might hold potential for harm to human health and the environment. We quickly went from 23,000 to 4,300.
To date, more than 2,700 of those 4,300 priority substances have been assessed under the chemicals management plan, with less than 2% of those being identified as toxic and requiring further management action. That says something about the confidence that Canadians should have in chemicals. We went from a universe of 23,000, we're down to 4,300, and fewer than 2% are being seen to merit further risk management action.
There is a ways to go. It's clear, though, that if we stay committed to this path, we'll complete the task of completing the risk assessments and appropriate risk management of those 4,300 priority substances within sight of the original 2020 goal.
Again, it has to be stressed, this is a singularly impressive example of effective public policy. The CMP is efficient and effective in its use of both public and private resources because it takes that risk management approach to evaluating and managing the risks of chemical substances.
The program also effectively leverages available data and existing classification frameworks already in use across industry and agreed upon by regulators. It integrates decisions, scientific studies, and data from other jurisdictions, including Europe. All the while, the program allows for the incorporation of significant new information to ensure the prioritization decisions remain current.
Often, and I'm sure you're part of this group, there can be skepticism when industry or an industry association states that it favours a certain public policy. Don't take my word for it; allow me to quote from my colleagues at Environmental Defence in their 2012 report card. We worked very closely on chemicals management issues from different perspectives.
The Environmental Defence 2012 report said:
The CMP has been an important and valuable program. The Challenge [to industry] in particular, has resulted in timely, systematic chemical assessments and frequent, world precedent-setting risk management decisions. This is no small feat considering the number of substance assessments and the limited timeframe for such [action].
In their report, Environmental Defence went on to give the CMP an A-plus rating for timeliness and a second A-plus rating for risk management actions taken to date. When environmental NGOs and industry can say A-plus twice, you have to believe that you have a winner of a public policy.
I can tell you that the greatest success of the chemicals management plan to date is exactly what the mandate of this group is looking at: the incorporation of recommendations in relation to other federal legislation and regulations pertaining to protection of human health and the environment for toxic substances.
Once the CMP has identified a risk to the health of Canadians or to the environment from a particular substance, there is an array of legislative and regulatory tools to meet the goals of managing that risk. These include the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act, the Food and Drugs Act, the Pest Control Products Act, and others. That “best placed act” policy is something we celebrate. It shows that safeguarding the health of Canadians and the environment is not necessarily something that has to be accomplished solely through CEPA.
The CMP also works because it has been appropriately funded and supported by government. There has been robust financial support to allow the program to do what it was intended to do and to remain credible in the eyes of the public.
As part of our 2015 budget consultations, Environmental Defence and CIAC co-recommend that the federal government continue to provide supporting funding for the CMP. How often does it happen that an environmental non-governmental organization and an industry association write together to the finance minister of the day to co-recommend?— We were pleased that this recommendation was accepted and that funding for the CMP was renewed for a further five years.
We think Canada should be very proud of its chemicals management regime. In fact, whenever we can, we talk about it to other countries as a model they should emulate. We know that in the past few years the CMP has been very well examined by U.S. academics and authorities. Our approach to prioritization is the cornerstone of the bills that are currently before committee for reconciliation in the U.S. Congress as they proceed to make changes to their Toxic Substances Control Act.
Similarly, the Government of Brazil came here last year on a mission to see Environment Canada and us. They're looking very closely at the CMP as a model for how they manage chemicals in their country, and that has generated interest in Argentina, Chile, Peru, and other countries in the Americas. This is something that we as Canadians in government, industry, and civil society organizations should all be proud of.
I mentioned a third thing. The CMP also works because it incorporates the views of all stakeholders. There is broad support of other levels of government in Canada. As a result we don't see a checkerboard of competing rules and regulations across our country. The same can't be said of the United States. There, multiple actions by a multitude of individual states provide a lot of potential to confuse consumers and disrupt normal patterns of commerce.
The CMP explicitly incorporates multiple opportunities for public review and comment to ensure that the best available data and information is used in toxicity designations. In cases in which a toxicity designation was not found, the act even contains mandatory review when individuals object. In fact, embedded throughout the CMP process is overt consultation with stakeholders before, during, and after an assessment has been performed. There are ample opportunities to participate and to provide data and information to stakeholders.
In addition, there are two very formal and important bodies that provide ongoing advice to the government in the implementation of the CMP: there is a science committee and a stakeholder advisory council. Each of those in turn is made up of independent experts from various fields. It's our belief that those processes are functioning very well and that their advice and recommendations are being considered and responded to by the Government of Canada.
As a Responsible Care organization, we believe in continuous improvement. We will have several recommendations that we will submit to the committee at a later date. Today we just want to leave you with one clear message and recommendation: let's complete this job. Let's ensure that the remaining chemicals are assessed and appropriately managed by the 2020 deadline. The progress that has been made has been thanks to sustained government, industry, and NGO commitment, to good planning and management, and to the allocation of sufficient budgetary resources commensurate with the scope, challenge, and importance of the work.
We urge this committee to recommend continued funding and program delivery until the job is done.
Please ensure that this government continues to support and implement Canada's chemicals management plan as intended.
Thank you very much. I look forward to your questions.
Hi. My name is Elaine MacDonald. I'm the senior staff scientist at Ecojustice Canada. Thank you for inviting me to present my thoughts on this 300-page act in 10 minutes. I hope I can do some justice to it.
Ecojustice, for those of you who don't know, is a national environmental law charity. I have a Ph.D. in environmental engineering from McGill University and I lead the environmental health team at Ecojustice, where I work on projects and cases related to pollution and toxics exposures.
I'm going to talk first about a couple of big-picture ideas for reimagining CEPA, then move into some specific concerns.
A community I visit many times and do a lot of work with is the Aamjiwnaang First Nation in southwestern Ontario. Aamjiwnaang is on the south side of Sarnia in an area known as Chemical Valley. The name comes from the intensity of oil refineries and chemical plants in the area. Aamjiwnaang itself is a beautiful oasis of green surrounded by industrial facilities. Community members report high rates of respiratory illness, cancer, and reproductive problems, but when they asked how the law regulates the cumulative effects of all these facilities in such a close proximity to them, they were told that it doesn't. A place like Aamjiwnaang is an example of an environmental injustice. Lower-income communities and first nations often suffer a disproportionate environmental burden in Canada.
A measure of CEPA's effectiveness could be an assessment of what it has done to try to correct these imbalances to ensure that every Canadian enjoys the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards. My assessment would be that CEPA has done little if nothing to help.
I recommend CEPA be amended to incorporate environmental justice principles as a starting point. It would be helpful for the government, perhaps this committee specifically, to look at the issue of environmental justice in Canada as an issue unto itself, since to date no government has done so. This is an important step in the U.S., legitimizing the issue but also ensuring that decision-makers have an accurate picture of the problem.
CEPA could address environmental inequities through national binding air quality standards or drinking water standards. We have neither in Canada.
Another area in which environmental justice could be applied within CEPA is the assessment of substances and organisms for toxicity, and risk management under parts 5 and 6, and including legislative requirements to consider vulnerable populations and the implications of gender, age, and social determinants of health such as economic status, living conditions, and access to safe drinking water, given the implications of these factors in terms of increasing susceptibility and sensitivity to certain chemical exposures.
CEPA has been described as a toxic treadmill, a game of whack-a-mole. As fast as the government assesses the toxicity of substances, there is always more to do. To get off the toxic treadmill, CEPA needs to adopt an alternatives assessment and life-cycle approach to assessing and managing the risks of toxic substances. An alternatives assessment is a process of identifying, comparing, and selecting safer alternatives to toxic chemicals or organisms—because CEPA also deals with organisms—to reduce risk to humans and the environment and to prevent the replacement of one toxic substance with another equally or even more toxic substance, something we have seen and frequently see.
Canada has fallen behind other jurisdictions such as the United States and the European Union, in which you do find alternatives assessment requirements as part of their chemicals management regime.
The OECD, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, conducted a meta-review of alternatives assessment and chemical substitution frameworks, and it's available on their website. There is also a precedent in Canadian law, actually, although unfortunately it's not mandatory. I would advocate for it to be mandatory. It's found in subsection 7(9) of the Pest Control Products Act.
I recommend that CEPA be amended to require alternatives assessment as part of the risk assessment for any substance or organism.
My remaining comments are slightly more specific and address some of the problems I have noted in CEPA 99 through my years of working with it.
It isn't clear to me what triggers an assessment under CEPA, other than the categorization process, which led to the CMP, which we just heard a lot about, and of course new substance or organism notifications. Environment Canada and Health Canada talk about the seven CEPA triggers or feeders, but the triggers are not laid out in the act in that manner.
What is clear is that some triggers are not working. For example, sections 70 and 71 relate to the information provided by industry, but I have never seen reference to a review being triggered by data provided by industry.
Similarly, subsection 75(3) is a requirement to review information on bans and restrictions of substances for environmental or health reasons in other jurisdictions, but that section still has not been implemented, although the last I heard Environment Canada claimed to be working on it. It has been quite some time since 1999.
The only trigger that is based on a request from a member of the public is found in subsection 76(3). It relates to the priority substances list and it is completely ineffective. I don't have time in ten minutes to go into why, but I do believe you government officials who work on CEPA would agree with me on that.
I recommend that CEPA be amended to clearly and transparently lay out the triggers that lead to the reviews of substances. It must ensure that substances are reassessed from time to time as new scientific information becomes available. I also recommend that CEPA be amended to add the right of a person to request a review of substances, much like the right that exists under subsection 17(4) of the Pest Control Products Act.
CEPA also deals with new substances. It doesn't just deal with existing substances, which is what we heard about with the chemicals management program. When someone notifies the government that they wish to import or manufacture a new substance, the review under CEPA is a black box. There's no transparency or consultation. The little that is required, such as publishing waived studies or data requirements, has been subject to months or even years of delay. Only after litigation was launched did the government publish a backlog of over 600 notifications of scientific data waivers, issued under the new substance and organism programs dating back as far as eight years. I recommend amendments to CEPA to require the timely publication of waivers, and consultation and transparency in the review of new substances and products of biotechnology under part 6.
CEPA 1999 grants the minister the powers to set guidelines and objectives, but what's really needed are science-based enforceable standards for air quality and drinking water, which I already touched on when I spoke of issues of environmental justice. You've probably been told of the government's work on the air quality management system, AQMS, or the Canadian ambient air quality standards, CAAQS. They're called standards but they're really not; they are objectives. Discussions of the federal air quality and pollution regulation regime can be tracked back at least eight years—I think I went to that first meeting, actually—yet we still don't have a standard for sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxide, two of the major precursors to smog and poor air quality. Compare this to the United States, where the EPA recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of the amended 1990 Clean Air Act, which sets out enforceable national ambient air quality standards for the entire country. CEPA needs to set enforceable science-based national air quality standards.
The last issue I want touch on is the national pollutant release inventory. This should be one of the crown jewels of CEPA, but it's not. It's the only source Canadians have for finding information on pollution emissions in their communities. The NPRI is meant to fulfill the government's obligation under CEPA to establish and publish a national inventory of pollutant releases. It's covered in sections 48 to 50. It's based on self-reported data from industry, but there are concerns regarding the government's validation and auditing of the data. There is no indication the level of auditing it gets. In addition, the NPRI includes exemptions and sets very high reporting thresholds, such that it doesn't provide Canadians with a complete picture of the actual pollution discharges in their communities. For example, the NPRI exempts oil and gas exploration. Tell that to somebody living in the Peace River valley. Oil and gas well drilling is also exempt. It recently just added an exemption for municipal waste water discharges, smaller discharges from municipal waste water plants. There is a mechanism that Environment Canada has for requesting changes to the NPRI, however that mechanism is broken. Environmental Defence Canada, my neighbours right here, made a request in 2010, and they still have not had a response to their request. It was for the addition of substances to the NPRI list that are found largely in tailings ponds such as naphthenic acid.
I recommend that the NPRI be strengthened under CEPA by laying out clear, comprehensive reporting and publishing requirements with lower thresholds, and without loopholes. In addition, I recommend the adoption of a transparent and accountable public tool for requesting changes to the NPRI with fixed timelines.
Thank you for your attention.
Thank you very much to the members of the committee and to the staff. We really appreciate the opportunity to be here to speak on this topic.
Environmental Defence has been conducting research and public education on the issue of toxic pollution for over 20 years. We issue reports, consumer education activities. We do outreach to government. I've been a member of the stakeholder advisory council of the CMP for five years now.
We also have a focus on consumer products. That's going to be one of the themes that I'll touch on today. I understand this is early days for this review, so we'll try to keep our comments focused on some big-picture items about things that need to be re-examined within CEPA to improve the protection of the environment and human health in Canada.
In terms of some of the general themes, we've already heard some commentary about Canada's chemicals management plan. Yes, Environmental Defence does think this is an important program, very worthy of a decent budget to conduct its activities. In 2012 we gave many aspects of the CMP high marks, but how is it performing now?
One key issue with CEPA is how we deal with waste from consumer products. When CEPA was passed, the mix of pollution in Canada from industrial sources was much greater. As you know, the economy has been changing, and the contribution that consumer products make to pollution of the environment and pollution of our bodies is much greater than it used to be. This is one area we need to look at.
We also need to look at how “toxic” is defined under CEPA. That's something that merits further consideration. Also, how well is risk management happening? We have a lot of risk assessment activities happening. Risk assessment, under the chemicals management plan, has been going on at a really exciting pace, a very ambitious pace—and that's excellent—but how well is risk management performing? These are some of the key themes I would like to address.
Canada was once an international leader in protecting human health and the environment from exposure to toxic substances, through a combination of risk assessment based on sound science and bold risk management measures that were in some cases the first of their kind globally. For example, when Canada banned the hormone-disrupting chemical BPA, or bisphenol A, from baby bottles, we were the first of many jurisdictions worldwide to take action on this chemical. In recent years, several challenges have emerged that impede Canada's progress in the sound management of chemical substances. In fact, action to reduce BPA in the marketplace took place under the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act. Is that really an appropriate measure? CEPA extends to protecting the environment, not only human health, and it's that type of comprehensive act that we really need. Should we really be so reliant on consumer product safety activities to protect the environment and human health? Is that actually appropriate?
I do understand there are limitations currently with how CEPA deals with consumer products, but in light of the changing Canadian economy, we do need to improve that area and take another look at that.
In terms of taking a look at how chemicals management happens in Canada, let's talk about that one-for-one rule. I know this is something that's been affecting risk management in Canada, so how CEPA is impacted by the one-for-one rule requires some conversation and consideration. One of the administrative requirements of CEPA is to take environmental and health considerations to be primary. If we're looking at the administrative burden of regulating substances with more weight than looking at the burden on human health and the environment, well, that's a problem for CEPA, so that requires some examination and some conversation.
In terms of how things are defined as “toxic” under CEPA, this is something that also requires some examination currently. Under part 5, Controlling Toxic Substances:
For the purposes of this Part and Part 6, except where the expression “inherently toxic” appears, a substance is toxic if it is entering or may enter the environment in a quantity or concentration or under conditions that
(a) have or may have an immediate or long-term harmful effect on the environment or its biological diversity.
When we look at the quantity aspect, we're not looking as much at inherent hazards of a substance, so this is a problem for a couple of key reasons. One, you have some populations who are going to be more exposed than others, so you have vulnerable populations, uneven exposures.
Also, we're learning more and more about the science of endocrine-disrupting chemicals, or as we say in blogs to make it more accessible, “hormone-disrupting”. These are chemicals that are similar to the hormones that allow our bodies to function properly and allow us to live healthy lives.
The United Nations Environment Programme and the World Health Organization issued an important review in 2013 about the state of the science of endocrine-disrupting chemicals. This report indicates that even very low levels of some of these chemicals can have quite a major impact on human health and on ecosystems.
We need to take a second look at risk assessment, when it comes to substances that can be active at very low doses. The old adage that the dose makes the poison—the traditional toxicological model—may be appropriate in some cases, but now that we're learning more about chemicals that can be very active at low levels, such as BPA, which is one of the more famous of these chemicals, we have to update how we look at what is considered toxic under CEPA. If we're just looking at the quantity that's entering the environment, there are some issues that merit further consideration in light of emerging science around endocrine-disrupting chemicals.
These chemicals also can be more active in what are called “windows of vulnerability”. People are more vulnerable to effects from exposure at different stages of life. If you compare an average person of good health at age 40, with a child who is going through so many changes physically and growing so quickly, or with a pregnant woman, the impacts of some of these chemicals can be very different, and possibly greater during these windows of vulnerability.
For an excellent review of this issue, I refer you to the World Health Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme's report on the topic.
We also need to take a second look at bioaccumulation. Canada's standards seem to be getting a little bit out of date. The persistence and bioaccumulation regulations under CEPA set an unduly high bar for designating a substance as bioaccumulative. The European Union and the United States have lower criteria than Canada for designating a substance as bioaccumulative. By lower, I don't mean looser; I mean the amount is much lower. This needs further examination.
In terms of CEPA time clock, we need better timelines for risk management. This is really a central issue. Now, we have great risk assessment happening. There are some areas wherein it can be improved. We need also to take a look at our criteria for adding substances to schedule 1, but we need to make an extremely close and thorough examination of risk management itself.
Currently, you can have a substance fulfill all of the requirements under CEPA for risk management—all the boxes can be ticked at every stage—and yet that substance, if it is in schedule 1, meaning toxic to human health and the environment, or to either, can still be very common in Canadian households, in Canadians' bodies, and in the environment.
What is wrong, then, with CEPA, if a substance on schedule 1 that has met all the appropriate time periods for risk management is still extremely common in us and in our environment? That's a serious issue.
If you're curious for a reference to how many toxic substances are appearing in Canadian bodies and in what amounts, the Canadian health measures survey from Statistics Canada is an excellent source of information. For example, BPA, which I mention not because it's the only one but because it's one of the most famous examples of these chemicals on schedule 1, is in 94% of Canadians aged three to 79 years. There is a great reference from the Canadian health measures survey for more information about the presence of these chemicals that are supposedly under good risk management already.
A few more illustrated examples in addition to BPA would include triclosan. We had a draft decision made on it in 2012, of its being toxic to the environment. Here we are in 2016, and it's still in hundreds of products in Canada. What is it? It's an antibacterial substance in many Canadian products that can mimic human thyroid hormone.
PBDEs afford another good example. These are toxic flame retardants that can damage the brain. Especially for young children they are shown to have an impact on IQ and can lower IQs. They build up as persistent pollutants in the Arctic, so there's an environmental justice issue there as well. We're still waiting for a regulation to restrict manufactured products containing PBDEs.
This is a serious problem. Risk management is meeting what's required under CEPA, but it's not effective to protect human health and the environment. We're seeing disproportionate impacts on some populations, including Arctic populations. That creates an unfair burden and is not appropriate. We need to take a close second look at CEPA. While some of the intentions may not be met, it's something I'm very hopeful about.
I really appreciate the opportunity to have commented today.