Chemical pollution is a serious global issue, impacting the lives of people and ecosystems around the world. And our exposure to new and novel chemicals continues to grow.
Governments around the world responsible for assessing and regulating new chemicals are unable to match the pace of this growth, leading scientists to conclude that humanity’s ability to regulate chemicals is now operating outside the planetary boundary.
That means governments are not equipped to assess and regulate chemicals as fast as humans are being exposed to them.
The lack of urgency among governments has led to calls for a global body similar to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to press for action to strengthen the regulation of chemicals before a global tipping point is exceeded.
A global tipping point occurs when the impact of chemicals becomes so detrimental to planetary and human health that government action becomes too late.
Just like climate change, there is a tipping point when the build-up of toxic chemicals in the environment and biosphere causes irreversible widespread harm.
In 2009, a team of international researchers outlined its belief that industrial chemical pollution was a threat that could render the Earth uninhabitable for humans.
We already know about chemicals used widely in Canada that have a serious impact on public health and the environment.
The acronym PFAS describes a family of more than 4,000 chemicals also known as “forever chemicals” because they never break down, making them a global pollutant. PFAS are linked to myriad health issues, including cancer, yet they remain widely used in consumer products like clothing and food packaging.
While Europe has started to pay attention — promising bans on entire classes of chemicals, including PFAS — Canada has done little to address PFAS as a class other than to commit to publish a report sometime next year.
Assessing large swaths of similar chemicals as a class helps governments address the toxic treadmill and avoid a game of whack-a-mole when a banned chemical is replaced by another within the class.
Bill S-5 is Canada’s chance to address the impact of such chemicals and finally modernize legislation, but the draft needs important amendments.
The proposed legislation would begin to address the cumulative impacts of a range of toxic chemicals and harmful pollution. Cumulative effects show people and the environment are exposed to more than one dangerous substance at a time.
For example, personal care products 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.
People across Canada are exposed to the cumulative effects of these chemicals in shampoos, sunscreen and lotions every day.
At a time when chemical pollution poses such a risk to humanity and the planet, senators and MPs must make strengthening and passing Bill S-5 a political priority.