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.

Just Posted

Black Press file photo
RCMP seek suspect in Vancouver Island-wide crime spree

Crimes stretched from Deep Bay to Qualicum, Ladysmith, Chemainus and Youbou

Flag exhibit is now set up in the Chemainus Valley Museum. (Photo by Val Galvin)
Fibre artists put their unique twists on climate change exhibit

Red Flag warning label affixed to collection now on display at the Chemainus Valley Museum

Things are looking up for Vancouver Island as zero COVID-19 cases have been reported for the first time since October. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Island records zero new COVID-19 cases for the first time since October

For the first time since October, the province is reporting zero new… Continue reading

Letters to the editor.
Many questions emerge from opioid dealer’s sentence

Leniency hard to fathom, especially after judge’s harsh words

The Crofton Pool will reopen July 2. (File photo by Don Bodger)
Lifeguard services returning to Fuller Lake Park, Crofton Pool

Summer schedule starting after hiatus in 2020 due to the pandemic

A small pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins pass by close to shore in Campbell River June 16, 2021. Still capture from video courtesy of Kimberly Hart
VIDEO: Dolphin sunset captured from Vancouver Island shore

Spectacular setting for view of travelling pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins

A North Vancouver man was arrested Friday and three police officers were injured after a 10-person broke out at English Bay on June 19, 2021. (Youtube/Screen grab)
Man arrested, 3 police injured during 10-person brawl at Vancouver beach

The arrest was captured on video by bystanders, many of whom heckled the officers as they struggled with the handcuffed man

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

Bruce Springsteen performs at the 13th annual Stand Up For Heroes benefit concert in support of the Bob Woodruff Foundation in New York on Nov. 4, 2019. (Greg Allen/Invision/AP)
Canadians who got AstraZeneca shot can now see ‘Springsteen on Broadway’

B.C. mayor David Screech who received his second AstraZeneca dose last week can now attend the show

New research suggests wolves can be steered away from the endangered caribou herds they prey on by making the man-made trails they use to hunt harder to move along. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Culling cutlines, not B.C. wolves, key to preserving caribou herds: researcher

The government has turned to killing hundreds of wolves in an effort to keep caribou around

Gary Abbott (left) and Louis De Jaeger were two of the organizers for the 2014 Spirit of the People Powwow in Chilliwack. Monday, June 21, 2021 is Indigenous Peoples Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of June 20 to 26

Indigenous Peoples Day, Take Your Dog to Work Day, Onion Rings Day all coming up this week

Gwen Spencer Hethey with her uncle and mentor Major Frederick Richardson. (Courtesy of Greater Victoria Sports Hall of Fame)
‘She was a killer’: The B.C. woman who pioneered female sharpshooting

Gwen Spencer Hethey made military men ‘look like turkeys’ says her son

Central Okanagan Grade 12 grads are set to get $500 each after a more than $1 million donation from a Kelowna couple. (File photo)
B.C. couple donating $500 to every Grade 12 student in the Okanagan

Anonymous donors identified as Kelowna entrepreneurs Lance and Tammy Torgerson

Most Read