The Canadians take on industry's "sound science."
"Government departments have been influenced by industry
groups that have successfully argued that the government needs to use a
"false principle" of "sound science" in its decisions to ban substances.
Even the industry officials surveyed acknowledged the term as a
strategy for undermining or delaying government action"
The Hill Times
June 13, 2006
Feds use false 'sound science' to regulate
carcinogens: industry critics
By Simon Doyle
The Canadian Environmental Protection Act calls on
the government to use 'precaution' in its risk management of toxins, but the
principle has not been used.
As the federal government comes under criticism for
failing to properly regulate toxins and carcinogens in consumer products and
the environment, the Standing Committee on Environment heard last week that
government departments have relied on a faulty approach of using "sound
science" to determine the risks associated with toxins.
In recent weeks, pressure has mounted on the government
to ban a number of harmful and toxins that do not break down in the
environment and that are sold in consumer products, such as flame
retardants, found in furniture and carpets, or perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS),
which is used to make non-stick pans and other non-stick materials.
The Canadian Environmental Protection Act, or CEPA,
gives regulatory powers to Cabinet to define chemicals as toxic if they are
considered to pose significant health risks.
But last week, environmental advocates told the Standing
Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development that government
departments have been influenced by industry groups that have successfully
argued that the government needs to use a "false principle" of "sound
science" in its decisions to ban substances.
A brief submitted last week to the committee by Bruce
Lourie, president of the Ivey Foundation, an environmental charitable
foundation in Toronto, says that there is no such thing as "sound science"
because it implies absolute evidence or consensus when all science contains
uncertainty. The brief calls the phrase an invention of industrial
stakeholders to slow down and delay the regulatory process toward banning
In his appearance before the Environment Committee last
week, Mr. Lourie said he conducted an informal survey of about 30 sources in
the government, manufacturing industry, advocacy groups, and academics, and
only government officials viewed "sound science" as a valid phrase. Even the
industry officials surveyed acknowledged the term as a strategy for
undermining or delaying government action, he said.
"We see sound science referenced in federal documents.
Sound science, if you read any of the literature on it, was a term created
by industry, deliberately, to interject uncertainty, to interject doubt into
decision-making. So the fact that we have sound science in our federal
documentation suggests that we're really lining ourselves up with the kind
of language the industry uses, deliberately, to undermine action. That's
problematic," Mr. Lourie said.
The Canadian Cancer Society says that 50 per cent of
cancers are preventable, and although most preventable cancers can be
attributed to smoking, people can unknowingly accumulate carcinogens and
other toxins in their bodies through inhalation, ingestion or skin contact.
They can be found in pesticides and weed killers,
household cleaners and detergents, personal care products, fruit with traces
of pesticides, beef with growth hormones, composite wood products and
In the 1970s, one in five Canadians could expect to
develop cancer in their lifetimes, according to Health Canada cancer
statistics. Today, the chance for men is one in 2.4 and for women one in
2.7, and the rate is predicted to rise.
CEPA includes a provision mandating that the government
use a "precautionary principle" in its approach to determining whether some
substances are harmful, but witnesses at the committee said a "sound
science" approach does not allow for such precaution.
Larry Stoffman, from the Canadian Strategy for Cancer
Control, who appeared before the committee with Mr. Lourie, said that in the
absence of using the precautionary principle, cancers that could be
prevented, are not.
Mr. Stoffman and Mr. Lourie pointed to mercury as an
example of a well-known toxin with multiple health hazards, but which has
not been banned and is still used in thermometers in public school labs.
If "sound science" had been applied in the risk
management of smoking in public places, Mr. Stoffman said, smoking would
still be allowed in the very committee room where they met in West Block.
Mr. Stoffman said the European Union uses an effective
precautionary principle, which says that wherever reliable scientific
evidence shows there may be adverse health effects from certain
substances--even if there is uncertainty about the extent of the
effects--there is a requirement to use precaution and ban or virtually
eliminate the substance.
The House Environment Commons Committee is currently
conducting a statutory review of CEPA. Liberal MP John Godfrey (Don Valley
West, Ont.), a member of the committee, told The Hill Times that the
committee could use the opportunity to look at redefining CEPA's
precautionary principle, to ensure that it is properly used.
"What happens is that these things become politicized.
If there's a substance where a group of stakeholders have some economic
interest in defending it, and they don't want this particular substance
replaced--they own the patent on it or whatever else--if the debate reaches
a Cabinet committee, the danger is that the economic interest of the
stakeholder trumps the precautionary principle," Mr. Godfrey said.
The issue appears to be gaining some political momentum.
Last week, two Liberal MPs, Susan Kadis (Thornhill, Ont.) and Maria Minna
(Beaches-East York), held a joint news conference to tout two private
Ms. Kadis' bill, Bill C-274, would ban brominated flame
retardants by adding them to the toxic substances list. Ms. Minna's bill,
Bill C-298, would ban PFOS, found in non-stick pans, which is linked to
various types of Cancer and can damage the brain and the immune system.
Ms. Minna, former minister for International Cooperation
under Jean Chrétien, said the issue is becoming increasingly important
because, while studies have increasingly shown the health hazards of the
chemicals, children are increasingly accumulating them.
However, under the regulatory powers of CEPA, the former
Liberal government had several years to ban the substances, and when asked
why it did not, Ms. Minna said the regulatory process--which observers say
can become bogged down in consultations--is slow.
"I, quite frankly, think we need to change the
regulatory system to make it easier and a little faster, so that these kinds
of changes can be made fairly quickly," Ms. Minna said. She said that she
hopes to see committee's current review of CEPA come up with a streamlined
way to ban substances through regulations.
"I think that maybe we should take a look at the
regulatory system as we review CEPA, and really change the onerous time that
it takes to designate substances. Other countries are doing it much faster,"
Ms. Minna said. "In the meantime we should pass this through the House of
Commons. Let's do it now," she said of the bill she introduced.
Ms. Kadis added that increasing pressure is only now
creating awareness about harmful environmental toxins.
"The media has played an important role, the public has,
we're trying here today, and I think collectively, we're at a point in time
that it really begs for that type of action to take place and serious
investigation by our officials," Ms. Kadis said.
Ms. Minna's bill is at first reading and will be debated
on June 15, but she said Minister Ambrose has indicated the government will
not be supporting the bill because such matters are the responsibility of
the Environment Department.
John Moffet, a director general at the Department of the
Environment, also appeared before the committee last week, and when asked
why the government has not banned substances such as mercury, Mr. Moffet
said CEPA gives the government the power to do so. The issue is really one
of political will, he said.
"Why haven't we? Fundamentally? I would argue that those
are political decisions. On the issue of federal leadership, the act gives
us the authority to address a wide range of issues, the extent to which
we've chosen to exercise that authority, has been and will continue to be a
political decision," Mr. Moffet said.
Mr. Moffet said stakeholder consultations on banning
substances can become "circular" and slow the process down. "Nothing in CEPA
impedes the minister from saying, 'I don't care what that process says, this
is the decision,'" he said.
A study released this month by Environmental Defence, an
environmental advocacy group in Toronto, tested seven children and six
parents to find harmful toxins in all of them, such as stain repellants,
flame retardants, mercury, lead, DDT and PCBs. Some children were found to
have higher levels of chemicals than their parents.
The study tested for 68 chemicals with a 68 per cent
success rate. They found eight chemicals linked to reproductive disorders,
38 suspected cancer-causing agents, 23 chemicals dangerous to the hormone
system, 19 neurotoxins, and 12 toxins associated with respiratory illnesses.
Last week, Environment Minister Rona Ambrose
(Edmonton-Spruce Grove, Alta.) announced an initiative to prevent nearly 10
tonnes of mercury from entering into Canada's air over the next decade. Ms.
Ambrose also announced that she would have her blood tested in another study
by Environmental Defence to raise awareness of the toxins in the blood of
children and families. firstname.lastname@example.org
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