Federal Report suggests
Canadians' health not protected
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - March 8, 2001
Fed agencies need additional
funding, scientific muscle to assess chemical threats to health, Round
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
- 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.
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
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
Moira Forrest Manager of Communications, NRTEE
(613) 992-7157 Fax: (613) 992-7385