October 22, 2007

Scientific experts call for stronger CEPA to cut exposure to toxic substances

More than 1,000 Canadian scientists have called on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to amend the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) to ensure that it reduces Canadians' exposure to toxic substances. Their position and advice are detailed in a letter sent to the PM earlier this month. Signatories include 70 Canada Research Chairs, 31 Royal Society members, six Order of Canada recipients, and two Herzberg gold medalists.

"As the government turns its attention toward Canada's primary pollution law, the medical and scientific community is speaking in a clear voice, urging the government to close the loopholes and protect the health and environment of Canadians," said University of Alberta ecology professor Dr David Schindler, holder of the Killam Memorial Chair. Dr Schindler and other scientists began collecting signatures from their colleagues in the fall of 2006.

Among CEPA's provisions is a mandatory five-year review, which was completed this spring by the House of Commons Environment Committee. Tabling of a formal response by the government is required, and this is expected shortly after Parliament resumes later this month. Hearings at a Senate committee will continue through the fall.

Witnesses appearing before each of the committees have highlighted weaknesses in the law and argued that these weaknesses 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," says the scientists' letter, adding, "CEPA requires significant improvements in order to deal with the emerging challenges of harmful substances in our environment."

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.

The scientists' letter, along with the list of signatories, may be viewed on-line at www.scientistsforahealthyenvironment.ca.

More information is available from Dr David Schindler at the University of Alberta, 780/492-1291 or 780/325-3770, or from Dr John Smol at Queen's University, 613/533-6147.

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