We are getting very close to the Federal Government ‘modernizing’ the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) under the recently tabled Bill S-5 in the Senate. The coatings industry and all chemical industries cannot ignore it. New regulations under this Act are expected to be completed by the House of Commons in December 2022. CEPA is the main legislation imposing significant compliance requirements on chemicals sold in Canada. It is very clear there is a strong desire to increase bans and place new use restrictions on chemicals in Canada, often without scientific data to do so. Moreover, many of the additional amendments proposed by the Senate go well beyond the intended scope of the ‘modernization’ effort. Worse than that, it seeks to do so without concern for what the science dictates with respect to managing the risks of chemicals in commerce.
If science does not prevail in chemical assessment, as it must and has for many years in Canada, what we have left is the politicization of Canada’s chemical assessment approach. The kudos Canada’s chemical assessment approach received over many years by other countries, with some even adopting the approach, will cease. It all sounds so familiar with respect to federal decisions of late, but one would never have expected it to be applied to Government decision-making that is normally based on comprehensive peer-reviewed scientific data. Instead, much of the recently proposed amendments in the Senate go well beyond what the Government intended and based only on one or two scientific views to support such an agenda.
In the federal Government’s consideration of the modernization of CEPA thus far there has been little consideration of what the chemical industry has achieved over the past 20 years in terms of product stewardship and sustainability. It seems as if time has stood still. The advocacy groups with a very specific agenda promotes the idea that chemicals are bad, getting worse and the current regulations are not working. They are wrong. Everyone knows chemicals used by consumers ‘must’ be regulated and handled with care, subjected to countless regulations to ensure that it is handled with vigour. In fact, a recent report done by a widely respected research organization (PWC) and acknowledged by the federal Government, noted that there were more than 50,000 chemical regulations in Canada. Those who work in the chemical industry know first-hand that these regulations cover many facets of chemical management related to worker safety, transportation and storage of chemicals, product stewardship, product labelling, air quality, and the list is long! Thus, the chemicals in commerce in Canada today are safe to use. And the federal Government continues to assess thousands of chemicals, in close collaboration with industry, to ensure that they continue to be safe.
One chemical sector, the coatings/adhesives/sealants/elastomers, besides being fully compliant have advanced greatly improved product stewardship and sustainability over the past 20 years! Yet, there is no acknowledgment of the great strides made in chemical assessment by those now seeking to arbitrarily ban or restrict chemicals. One need only look at the sustainability reports of coatings companies around the world to see what they have achieved and the future environmental goals they have committed to at the highest levels of their organizations. Many of those plans relate to the UN’s ESG goals and their commitment their company’s plan to move toward to achieve net zero in the coming years. These include initiatives to become carbon neutral, use more renewable energies, increase use of bio-based materials, increased recycling initiatives across the board, and ‘many’ more.
There are too many initiatives to mention in this short space. For example, architectural coatings in Canada have reduced VOC emissions over 90% and the Federal Government’s own study confirmed a reduction of 42,000 tonnes of emissions over the past 15 years, the equivalent of 325,000 cars taken off the road. Since 1990 coatings manufacturing emissions have fallen by over 90% according to Canada’s National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI). Antifouling marine coatings reduce fossil fuel consumption and prevent invasive species from entering critical freshwater ecosystems. Manufacturers pay 100% of the costs of recycling an average of 20 million kilograms of paint in Canada annually, enough to paint over 500,000 homes a year. There are innovative coatings to cool buildings and increase energy efficiency with anti-reflective coatings, roof and wall coatings.
It’s unclear what the ‘modernization’ of CEPA means in terms of adding more regulations to the 50,000 already in place. If more are to be added they must be essential and based on scientific data. It must not be done just to harm the coatings and larger chemical manufacturing sector in Canada, which contributes more than $20 billion in economic impact annually, with good jobs for Canadians. There are often unintended consequences caused by regulation, especially when done in the absence of clearly established, evidenced-backed outcomes. The standard for any new regulation as set by the Government of Canada’s own regulatory principles must be heeded, that is: “Regulatory decision-making is evidence-based: Proposals and decisions are based on evidence, robust analysis of costs and benefits, and the assessment of risk while being open to public scrutiny.” Let’s hope the consideration of the proposed amendments to CEPA finally embrace this key principle.
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