Ecojustice Blog – Healthy communities Posted on October 5, 2010 (updated: February 17, 2015)

Watering down the toxics

Devon PageLawyer

Ecojustice and the Canadian Cancer Society are taking action against a disturbing federal government trend that is seeing fewer and fewer dangerous chemicals making it onto the list of regulated contaminants.

Here’s some history on toxics in Canada: There are thousands of potentially harmful substances used domestically and abroad that make their way into our food, products, water and air, causing cancers, birth defects and a host of diseases. The government shortlisted about 4000 chemicals that will potentially harm human health or the environment, and prioritized 200 of these into 12 batches – we’re currently assessing Batch 6. If found to be toxic, a chemical placed on the Toxic Substances List is strictly regulated and managed under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act [CEPA].

The disconcerting trend we’re seeing is one where less and less chemicals being assessed are making their way on to the Toxic Substances List, with just one of the 14 to make the list in Batch 6. Industry and government do not appear willing to produce the much-needed missing information on how these chemicals may enter the environment, and worse still they are using this lack of data as a lack of proof to justify keeping potentially toxic chemicals off of the Toxic Substances List.

That’s why we’re sounding the alarm bells at Health Canada and Environment Canada on toxic chemicals and the precautionary principle. “Precautionary” means that instead of using the current gaps in knowledge to justify keeping chemicals off the federal list, this principle places the burden of proof on industry to show how these chemicals will not harm human or environmental health.

Ecojustice helped establish the precautionary principle in Canada at the Supreme Court back in 2001, and we’re working to ensure that this responsible approach comes through in the way Canada protects its citizens from dangerous chemicals.

CEPA clearly outlines how the precautionary principle should guide government’s thinking, and our challenge to Environment and Health Canada is to focus on this principle in their decisions that have vast implications for our health and our future.

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