January 15, 2007

Leading Canadian scientists, doctors call for improvements to CEPA

More than 700 of Canada's leading scientists and medical experts have signed a letter calling on on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to amend the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) to ensure it reduces Canadians' exposure to toxic substances. Among the signatories are 19 Canada Research Chairs, 25 Royal Society members, four Order of Canada recipients, and two Herzberg gold medalists.

University of Alberta ecology professor Dr David Schindler, holder of the Killam Memorial Chair, helped organize the initiative through a Web site, www.scientistsforahealthyenvironment.ca , which is still collecting signatures.

CEPA is undergoing its mandatory five-year review; hearings convened by the House of Commons Environment Committee recently concluded, and the Senate's Standing Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources is conducting a parellel review. Witnesses appearing before the committees have highlighted many weaknesses in the law that have resulted in a lack of effective action to reduce pollution in Canada.

"Canada has a growing pollution problem that is a threat to both human health and the quality of our environment," the scientists' letter states. "CEPA requires significant improvements in order to deal with the emerging challenges of harmful substances in our environment." The federal government's new strategy for managing chemicals, while commendable, does not address deficiencies in the overall regulatory system.

The letter focuses on four areas that need improvement in CEPA:

1) protecting vulnerable ecosystems, such as the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence basin;

2) requiring deadlines for each stage from assessment to management of potentially harmful substances;

3) employing the precautionary approach by shifting the onus onto industry to show that products are safe, rather than the current system, under which the government must generally prove that a substance is harmful before taking regulatory action; and

4) providing the authority to regulate potentially harmful substances in consumer products.

"We hope this letter will encourage parliamentarians to make improvements to CEPA so that it better protects our health and our environment," said Dr John Smol, Canada Research Chair in Environmental Change at Queen's University, editor of the Journal of Paleolimnology, and one of the co-signatories of the letter.

More information is available from Dr David Schindler at the University of Alberta, 780/492-1291 or Dr John Smol at Queen's University, 613/533-6147.

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