The Society for Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC) 40th annual SETAC North America conference was held in Toronto, ON this past week (November 3 -7, 2019). CPCA’s Director of Public Affairs, Peter Mirtchev, attended the conference to keep informed on the latest cutting-edge academic research on relevant topics of interest to CPCA including microplastics, TiO2, informed substitution, and regulatory policy discussions. Over the course of 4 days, hundreds of oral and poster presentations were delivered by researchers from all over the world tying together SETAC’s theme for the meeting “Great Together: Separate Challenges and Collective Solutions” which encourages collaboration between researchers from academia, government, the private sector as well as first nations communities and non-governmental organizations to address shared environmental problems.
Of high interest to CPCA members was the topic of microplastics – fragments of plastics with dimensions less than 5 millimeters which can accumulate in the environment and in many organisms. This broad definition is concerning, as the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has for some time been considering regulating microplastics in commerce and the paint and coatings sector would be included in any product labelling and reporting requirements. The scientific consensus on microplastics at the moment appears to be that they are being increasingly found in a number of different aquatic and airborne environments but there lacks a standardized nomenclature and mode of classification of these particles according to their relative toxicity. CPCA agrees that these parameters must be more clearly defined and the scope of any restrictions narrowed before they are to be considered for implementation in Canada and the US.
Besides quantitative research presentations, there was also a pronounced focus on science communication and translating basic research into fair, robust policy instruments to protect human health and the environment. CPCA agrees with many of the presented viewpoints by government officials emphasizing that outdated scientific knowledge can result in misuse of resources in the economy, research directions and funding, and public perceptions. Policy decision must be made by evaluating all available information using a weight-of-evidence approach that gathers, vets, and assesses all available scientific data in order to come up with a holistic and sustainable response. This is especially pertinent in the area of alternatives assessment and informed substitution where there have been indications that government is attempting to insert itself as a regulator in the middle of the alternatives assessment process and mandate the removal of certain substances from commerce based on hazard alone resulting in regrettable substitutions that may be just as harmful or potentially more so. CPCA is actively engaged on this issue via our work with the CEPA Industry Coordinating Group.