4000 Toxic Chemicals and No Plan of Action

After a lengthy seven year process, the Government of Canada has categorized 4,000 chemicals as potentially toxic to the environment or to human health. But they have no plan for what to do with these substances. The government has not even made the list public, although the deadline for doing so has passed. Many of the chemicals are found in consumer products, although until the list is public, no one officially knows just what chemicals are on it.
Four hundred of the four thousand chemicals have been categorized as the worst of the worst. These 400 chemicals meet three major standards for harm. They accumulate in living organisms, they are inherently toxic, and they are persistent, which means they don’t break down in the environment.

By September 13, the government was supposed to outline its strategy to ban, phase out or regulate these chemicals. The government has done none of these. There is no indication that they have any plan for decisive action.

“It looks like they intend to do nothing or as little as possible,” says Hugh Benevides, legal counsel for the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA). CELA was an active participant in the categorization process.

Under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA), the government has the power to ban, phase out or regulate any of these substances. In 15 years, only 79 chemicals have been declared toxic under this law, and even fewer have been regulated.

“It is time to ban the worst and regulate the rest, with the goal of replacing them with safe substitutes,” said Benevides. “Of highest priority are chemicals that are commonly found in consumer products and that create exposure risks inside our homes.”

CELA wants to see immediate strategies to phase-down and phase-out the worst chemicals, and an aggressive strategy to regulate the rest. They want the government to move quickly towards elimination of chemicals known to cause cancer or reproductive damage. 

Canada is at a crossroads in its approach to protecting human health and the environment from dangerous substances. The categorization process reveals that the protection from hazardous chemicals which most Canadians believe exists is not there. Not only are there thousands of chemicals which are known to be harmful, the process revealed that there are many chemicals for which there is not even enough information to determine how harmful they are.