Environmental action groups are urging the federal government to maintain Senate amendments made around the cumulative impacts of toxic chemicals for Bill S-5 following Parliament’s summer recess. This will be the first major update to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) in two decades.
Vancouver-based Ecojustice, Canada’s largest environmental law charity, is turning a spotlight on CEPA’s revamp because it sees the legislation as woefully out of date and no longer able to keep communities safe from modern environmental harms, particularly in the face of a 50-fold increase in the production of chemicals since 1950. This is expected to triple again by 2050.
The bill, introduced in the Senate, has yet to pass in the House of Commons and Ecojustice representatives fear that MPs may reverse some progressive amendments when the fall session begins, let alone add stronger ones.
“There are further improvements needed to ensure that Bill S-5 provides robust protection to everyone in Canada, including mandating greater transparency about government decisions on dangerous substances, mandatory labelling of toxic ingredients on consumer products, and more stringent timeline requirements to ensure chemicals are quickly banned or restricted once they are deemed toxic,” writes Ecojustice program director of healthy communities Elaine MacDonald, in a call to action.
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One study published earlier in 2022 suggested that the aggressive development of new chemicals may have finally outpaced society’s ability to adequately assess and monitor their risk. For example, personal care products such as shampoos, sunscreens and lotions, are manufactured with 10,500 unique chemical ingredients, some of which are known or suspected to cause cancer, harm the reproductive system or disrupt the endocrine system.
In a recent submission to the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources, eco-action groups such as Environmental Defence, The David Suzuki Foundation, the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, and Ecojustice, zero in on what they see as necessary changes to language in CEPA Part 5 — Controlling Toxic Substances. In particular, the groups want to see less focus on the bill vaguely prioritizing substances of “highest risk”, which it sees as “broad discretion”, and instead see the creation of exceptions to mandatory prohibition regulations.
“Otherwise the regime risks producing arbitrary decisions that are not rooted in environmental and human health science,” the groups argue in their submission.
The groups also want to address what they view as a lack of transparency with respect to the assessment of toxic substances under CEPA. They suggest that the government expand public access to relevant data related to environmental and health risks.
The groups are also calling for clearer timeline requirements to assess substances and implement measures once they are deemed to be toxic. Otherwise, unnecessary legislative delays can continue to be expected, they suggest.
Ecojustice states that the passage of Bill S-5 from the Senate to the House of Commons “marks an important milestone” in the fight to secure the right to a healthy environment for everyone in Canada.