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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Bella Coola RCMP are alerting residents that the road between 4 Mile subdivision and downtown will be closed until at least tomorrow. (File image)
Winter storm closes 4 Mile to downtown road in Bella Coola

Police it will remain closed until Saturday, at least

The Bella Coola area also received a large dump of snow as seen here Friday, Nov. 27, but by the afternoon it had started to rain there. (submitted photo)
Update: More than 900 Bella Coola customers without power, expected to last overnight

Highway 20 remains closed between Anahim Lake and Bella Coola Friday, Nov. 27

More than 60 cm of snow has fallen at Ulkatcho First Nation since a snowfall warning went into effect Thursday, Nov. 26. (Ruby Squinas photo)
VIDEO: More than 60 cm of snowfall in Chilcotin since Thursday, Nov. 26

Graham West of Ulkatcho First Nation captures the scene on video

Heavy rainfall is expected through the region through today and into Friday (Caitlin Thompson photo)
High streamflow advisory issued for Bella Coola, Central Coast

The heaviest rain is expected Thursday night and into Friday and is expected to ease later Friday

Idyllic winter scenes are part of the atmosphere of the holiday season, and are depicted in many seasonal movies. How much do you know about holiday movies? Put your knowledge to the test. (Pixabay.com)
QUIZ: Test your knowledge of holiday movies and television specials

The festive season is a time for relaxing and enjoying some seasonal favourites

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

A man walks by a COVID-19 test pod at the Vancouver airport in this undated handout photo. A study has launched to investigate the safest and most efficient way to rapidly test for COVID-19 in people taking off from the Vancouver airport. The airport authority says the study that got underway Friday at WestJet’s domestic check-in area is the first of its kind in Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Vancouver Airport Authority *MANDATORY CREDIT*
COVID-19 rapid test study launches at Vancouver airport for departing passengers

Airport authority says that a positive rapid test result does not constitute a medical diagnosis for COVID-19

114 Canadians were appointed Nov. 27 to the Order of Canada. (Governor General of Canada photo)
Indigenous actor, author, elder, leaders appointed to Order of Canada

Outstanding achievement, community dedication and service recognized

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Screenshot of Pastor James Butler giving a sermon at Free Grace Baptist Church in Chilliwack on Nov. 22, 2020. The church has decided to continue in-person services despite a public health order banning worship services that was issued on Nov. 19, 2020. (YouTube)
2 Lower Mainland churches continue in-person services despite public health orders

Pastors say faith groups are unfairly targeted and that charter rights protect their decisions

A big job: Former forests minister Doug Donaldson stands before a 500-year-old Douglas fir in Saanich to announce preservation of some of B.C.’s oldest trees, July 2019. (B.C. government)
B.C. returning to ‘stand-alone’ forests, rural development ministry

Horgan says Gordon Campbell’s super-ministry doesn’t work

Peter Wilson, left, and Micah Rankin, right, formed the Special Prosecutor team that was tasked with reviewing and litigating charges stemming from the Bountiful investigation. Trevor Crawley photo.
End of Bountiful prosecution wraps up decades of legal battles

Constitutional questions had to be settled before a polygamy prosecution could move forward

Alexandre Bissonnette, who pleaded guilty to a mass shooting at a Quebec City mosque, arrives at the courthouse in Quebec City on February 21, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mathieu Belanger - POOL
Court strikes down consecutive life sentences; mosque shooter has prison term cut

The decision was appealed by both the defence and the Crown

Most Read