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Federal Report suggests
Canadians' health not protected


Fed agencies need additional funding, scientific muscle to assess chemical threats to health, Round Table says

Ottawa - The Federal Government should allocate millions of dollars to beef up its capacity to understand new scientific findings, and apply them in assessing new and already-registered pesticides and chemicals, a new report released today by the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy recommends. "The government is routinely asked to make decisions that must weigh public health, environmental and commercial interests," said Stuart Smith, Chair of the Round Table. "Science plays a crucial role in these decisions, but one that is increasingly difficult because of a legacy of budget constraints."

The Round Table report also stresses the need for better integration of assessment activities among government departments, and calls for much more openness in the assessment process. The report, "Managing Potentially Toxic Substances in Canada", makes 11 recommendations to the federal government designed to protect Canadians from dangerous chemicals in air, water, soil and food. They include:

  • Allocate $40 million over three years to integrate health and environmental research within the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, create links with other jurisdictions and information sources, and undertake more complex scientific inquiries reflecting leading edge thinking.
  • Create a government-wide Health and Environment Scientific Advisory Committee. This committee would report annually on the federal government's capacity to carry out its duties under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act and Pest Control Products Act, suggest research that needs to be done, and identify emerging issues.
  • Make information on substances it is evaluating readily available to the public. This would include access to all health and environmental data, such as that submitted to government departments by third parties like industry, other than legitimate proprietary information.
  • Drastically increase the federal government's scientific staff to "better judge scientific material it receives, better perform or contract for its own scientific work where necessary, and deal with complex issues, such as those associated with taking children's health into account during substance assessment and regulation."

The Round Table report cites the federal Environment Commissioner's 1999 report in which he stated: "Within existing budgets, departments are struggling to meet legislated responsibilities, policy commitments and international treaty obligations and, in many cases, are failing to do so."

"Advances in scientific understanding of how substances in the environment affect human health often point to the need for more complex - and hence more resource-intensive - assessment procedures. Increased scientific capacity would also allow the government to systematically reassess pesticides and other chemicals, many of which were approved for use decades ago," added Dr. Smith.

The Round Table report was developed in consultation with industry, environment groups, academics and government officials using four case studies of decisions about potentially toxic substances, and a workshop whose participants "identified a consistent and serious lack of integration of health and environmental issues in policy making."

In one of the cases - the decision whether to ban the gasoline additive MMT - the policies of one department contradicted the findings of another. In a second case studied by the Round Table, concerning the pesticide lindane, when one branch of government identified potential dangers, it did not trigger an immediate response by the responsible regulatory agency.

"There is a clear need to increase knowledge management inside government," Dr. Smith said. With respect to transparency, the Round Table case study on MMT showed the decision was taken "without informing stakeholders about how the decision was made or how information was used." That decision was later overturned by an international trade agency. One economical way to evaluate new chemicals and re-assess old ones in light of new information on their impacts is work-sharing with other industrial nations. Canada lacks adequate funding to fully participate in these initiatives, workshop participants concluded.

The National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy is appointed by the Prime Minister and reflects a diversity of Canadian interests, including industry and environment groups. -30- For further information:

Moira Forrest Manager of Communications, NRTEE
Tel: (613) 992-7157 Fax: (613) 992-7385

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