Canada’s ongoing assessment of chemicals management in Canada has been discussed in this magazine from time to time because it has been an important subject matter for more than a dozen years. The federal Chemicals Management Plan (CMP) under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) is still with us and will be for the foreseeable future. One cannot underestimate the impact it has on all those companies in Canada doing business in the chemical industry. The number identified in 2006 was 23,000 chemicals in commerce used in literally tens of thousands of products. Those chemicals are used in everyday life by millions of Canadians and were deemed of ‘no concern’ to human health and the environment and thus not in need of risk assessment. There were however 4300 chemicals deemed to be ‘of concern’ and prompted the federal government to budget $500 million for each of the three phases of the CMP, over 15 years. The intent is to fully assess the potential impact of those chemicals on both human health and the environment. Now in its third phase, this program continues to assess the remaining 1540 chemicals ‘of concern’ in commerce in Canada, 540 of which are used in coatings, adhesives, sealants and elastomers (CASE).
Of course, more than 25 chemical sectors have also invested tens of millions of dollars in complying with the requirements under the CMP, as required on the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. They continue to provide the necessary data for the government to conduct science-based assessments. In that way, industry has been instrumental in ensuring that the chemicals used in products are safe for human health and the environment. Over the past 15 years there have been very few toxic designations for those chemicals and where there has been, they have been evidenced-based. For both government and those in the coatings industry, one of the most implicated sectors with respect to the chemicals being assessed, are to be acknowledged for the positive work they have done to ensure safe and sustainable products for Canadians.
The third and final Phase of the Chemicals Management Plan is now nearing an end in 2020 and there is significant work still to do by industry. Clearly, with so many substances and the demands imposed by the data gathering process for thousands of substances assessed, it has taxed the resources many companies and company associations seeking to ensure compliance. CPCA has always been vigilant in ensuring companies are fully informed of the requirements to comply with this rigorous chemical assessment process, as required by law. The risk assessment part of the process is ‘the’ critical part as it ultimately determines whether a chemical is permitted to remain in commerce and continue to serve the business interests of companies using them in a wide range of products. Chemical risk assessment determines whether or not a chemical is designated toxic under the Act (CEPA-toxic) and thus any future risk management measures imposed on those chemicals. The highest form of risk management is, of course, a regulation. However, in the risk management toolbox, there is also Codes of Practice, pollution prevention plans, compliance agreements, etc. In all cases, a company will have to adjust business strategies as a substance could be banned outright or have concentration levels reduced to the point of rendering them useless in critical product formulations, which is effectively a ban.
Over the past 15 years, the decisions taken on risk assessment and risk management by the federal government have been reasonable for the most part. It has been based on sound science per the chemical assessment regime employed that references multiple sources of data and consults a very credible CMP Science Committee supplemented by research and monitoring, compliance promotion, stakeholder engagement, and information gathering and reporting. We will explore the many facets of such a regime here. Suffice it to say it is a credible and robust program, which ensures all final decisions are based on a fulsome screening assessment of chemicals. Once the third and final phase of the Chemical Assessment Plan is completed in 2020, there are already indications that there will be a fourth Phase beyond 2020. In effect, chemical assessment will be with us for the foreseeable future as the federal government will be looking at new substances added to the Domestic Substances List and has indicated that they will likely reassess chemicals that have already been assessed in the previous three phases in cases wherein there have been new uses identified for those substances. That number is estimated to be in excess of 500 substances currently. This will place the onus on companies to provide further information to the government in the re-assessment of those chemicals used in products.
In addition to re-assessment of substances in previous phases, the federal government is now looking at broadening the scope of assessment. It is seeking to include consideration of what is being called ‘informed substitution,’ which may require a full and complete assessment of alternative substances deemed to be of less concern to human health and the environment. As such, there is now some discussion as to how far such a determination can go with respect to mandating alternatives assessment be substituted for existing substances when available. The concern industry has expressed with this approach are many, the main one being the fact that alternatives, if they exist, may cost several times more than current substances. Secondly, extensive – and expensive – testing of alternatives would be required to determine if they would be feasible in existing product formulations. These could be formulations in very successful product lines. Both would be disruptive for industry and very costly with no assurance that such alternatives would work. This is but one example wherein industry must be vigilant and ensure future actions are based on evidence-based information, which must consider the potential impacts on trade and commerce. The latter is supposed to be guaranteed by the federal government’s regulatory policy directive, of which they need constant reminding.
Fair and evidenced-based assessment is what CPCA seeks to do in concert with its technical committees and the recently launched Canada CoatingsHUB for members. The goal is to ensure companies can indeed mitigate risk, while remaining in full compliance with the law.