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

Grandmothers to Grandmothers is a campaign that connects Canadian grandmothers with grandmothers in Africa who are caring for children orphaned by AIDS. Here, they are in Kakuto, Uganda in 2018. (Kibuuka Mukisa Oscar photo)
Greater Victoria and African grandmothers celebrate solidarity with virtual concert

Grandmothers to Grandmothers supports women in Africa caring for children orphaned by AIDS

Naloxone is used to treat opioid overdoses. (Black Press Media files)
Island Health issues overdose advisory for Greater Victoria

The advisory directs bystanders to an overdose to call 911 and administer naloxone

A vehicle that was driven through the wall of a parkade at Uptown Shopping Centre and into the nearby Walmart on April 9 was removed through another hole in the wall later that night. (Photo via Saanich Police Department and Ayush Kakkar)
Driver who crashed into Uptown Walmart likely suffering mental health crisis, police say

Man in his early 20s drove through a parkade wall, no serious injuries reported

Supporter Gordy Dodd cheers on HeroWork Victoria executive director Trevor Botkin, who will be in a lift for 36 hours beside Dodd’s Furniture and Mattress on April 16 and 17 to raise funds for the organization’s next project, a makeover of the Salvation Army’s Addiction and Rehabilitation Centre on Johnson Street. (Courtesy HeroWork Victoria)
HeroWork Victoria tackles makeover of Salvation Army rehab centre

Executive director to spend 36 hours living in a lift as fundraiser

West Shore RCMP is seeking information about a collision involving a car and a bicycle on Six Mile Road, near the Island Highway, at 11:30 a.m. on April 7. (Black Press Media file photo)
West Shore RCMP seeks information about collision between bike, car

Collision occured on Six Mile Road on April 7 and a bystander got the blue car’s plate number

Restaurant patrons enjoy the weather on a patio in Vancouver, B.C., Monday, April 5, 2021. The province has restricted indoor dining at all restaurants in B.C. due to a spike in COVID-19 numbers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C.’s COVID-19 indoor dining, drinking ban extending into May

Restaurant association says patio rules to be clarified

Two men were seen removing red dresses alongside the Island Highway in Oyster Bay. (Submitted photo)
Two men filmed removing red dresses from trees on highway near Ladysmith

Activists hung the dresses to raise awareness for Vancouver Island’s Murdered/Missing Women & Girls

B.C. Premier John Horgan speaks at the B.C. legislature. (B.C. government)
Tougher COVID-19 restrictions in B.C., including travel, still ‘on the table’: Horgan

John Horgan says travel restrictions will be discussed Wednesday by the provincial cabinet

RCMP on scene yesterday at the altercation at the trailer park. (Submitted photo)
Violent altercation at Port Hardy trailer park sends one to hospital

Police say man confronted another over airsoft shooting, then was attacked with a weapon

John Albert Buchanan was found guilty of manslaughter in the 2017 death of Richard Sitar. Pictured here, Buchanan walking to the court in Nanaimo last year. (Karl Yu/News Bulletin)
Six years including time served for Nanaimo man in bludgeoning death

John Albert Buchanan sentenced in B.C. Supreme Court in Nanaimo for death of Richard Sitar

Flow Academy is not accepting membership applications from anybody who has received a dose of the vaccine, according to a password-protected membership application form. (Submitted image)
B.C. martial arts gym refusing patrons who have been vaccinated, wear masks

Interior Health has already issued a ticket to Flow Academy for non-compliance with public health orders

Guinevere, lovingly referred to by Jackee Sullivan and her family as Gwenny, is in need of a gynecological surgery. The family is raising money to help offset the cost of the procedure. (Jackee Sullivan/Special to Langley Advance Times)
Langley lizard’s owners raise funds for gynecological surgery

The young reptile is scheduled for operation on Tuesday

Facebook screenshot of the sea lion on Holberg Road. (Greg Clarke Facebook video)
VIDEO: Sea lion randomly spotted on remote B.C. logging road

Greg Clarke was driving home on the Holberg Road April 12, when he saw a large sea lion.

Defence counsel for the accused entered two not guilty pleas by phone to Grand Forks Provincial Court Tuesday, Jan. 12. File photo
B.C. seafood company owner fined $25K for eating receipt, obstructing DFO inspection

Richmond company Tenshi Seafood is facing $75,000 in fines as decided March 4 by a provincial court judge

Most Read