Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak in the debate on private member's Bill C-298, the perfluorooctane sulfonate virtual elimination act that was developed by the member for Beaches—East York. I want to thank her for getting the issue on the agenda.
It is very important that we have looked at this particular chemical that exists in our environment and has, I believe, been misused over the years. It is a very serious issue. I am glad we have made some significant progress on virtually eliminating it or that we will be moving to that shortly.
It was interesting listening to the member for Nanaimo—Alberni who talked about the process that the committee went through in working on this bill, some of the compromises and give and take that was made to this legislation to make it possible to gain support I gather in all corners of the House. Certainly, we in the NDP are supporting this legislation. I think that shows the kind of work that can be done in the House of Commons on legislation.
I wish that we had been able to muster that same kind of non-partisan cross-party effort on the big environmental bills of our day. It would be great if we could bring back the clean air and climate change act that had that same kind of cooperation through committee. Every party was allowed to bring its ideas to the table. The final document, the rewritten bill, reflected the ideas of all political parties in this place. Sadly, the government has refused to put it back on the agenda.
While we are making progress on this very specific chemical, we are missing progress on that very important and large piece of work on climate change that all Canadians recognize as crucial. It is going to be a sad day if we do not make progress in this Parliament on that big issue.
I also want to mention that Bill C-298 is similar in its intent and work to one that we passed last night at third reading, another private member's bill, Bill C-307, from the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley, the phthalate control act, which also sought to limit the use of a particular chemical that was harmful to our environment and to our health.
I think we have been making progress again on some very specific issues but it is too bad we cannot get the big issue of our day, the climate change issue, back on the agenda of this place and make some real progress there.
With regard to the specific bill before us, it mandates the Minister of the Environment and the Minister of Health to make regulations that would keep the release of PFOS into the environment at a very low level where the substance actually cannot even be accurately measured. That is what it means to be put on the virtual elimination list. It is not being eliminated virtually, but it is going to be removed enough to a point where its presence in the environment is negligible. That is a very important step to take.
It seems that PFOS is one of those substances that seemed like a good idea at the time. It was a very popular substance when it was first introduced. It was used in many fabrics as a stain resistant substance, usually as a stain repellant. It was used in rugs, carpets, upholstery, clothing, food packaging, cleaners and in firefighting foams. It was used in very many places across our society. It was thought to be inert at the beginning.
Few tests were ever completed on the chemical's effects on people and wildlife and on the environment, but recently more testing has been done and it has been shown to have some very serious problems. For instance, animal testing was done. It was shown to be a carcinogen. It did cause certain kinds of cancers and damage to the immune system. That was an important step forward where we realized some of the harm that could be caused by PFOS.
This led, I think in the year 2000, to the Environmental Protection Agency of the United States banning the substance. It said that continued manufacture and use of PFOS represented an unacceptable technology that should be eliminated to protect human health and the environment from potentially severe long term consequences. I know as well that Environment Canada and Health Canada agreed in their own studies and work on PFOS.
We also know that PFOS is bioaccumulative. It does not disappear; it persists in the environment once it is introduced there. That is a very serious consequence of the use of this particular chemical.
Environment Canada and Health Canada stated in the Canada Gazette:
PFOS has been detected throughout the world, including in areas distant from sources, and in virtually all fish and wildlife sampled in the northern hemisphere, including Canadian wildlife in remote sites, far from sources or manufacturing facilities of PFOS and its precursors.
We know that it is a very difficult substance to eliminate now that we have introduced it into our environment. We know that its health effects are very serious as well. It is persistent, it is bioaccumulative and it is toxic, all good reasons why we should be eliminating its use in our society.
This is a very important step to take. I gather from reading the original speeches by the member for Beaches—East York on this that there are proposals to eliminate this substance globally. Sweden has proposed a global ban on PFOS as part of the persistent organic pollutants treaty, which is being discussed. I hope that Canada, given the steps that it seems we are about to take with it, will strongly support Sweden in those efforts because it is an action that needs to be taken.
We need to act quickly on this. Originally it looked as though it could take years for this to take place, even if we took the actions suggested in this legislation. We need to make sure this process is expedited so that PFOS is eliminated as soon as possible and not allowed to continue to do the harm it does to our health and the environment.
This bill points out some of the difficulties with the Canadian Environmental Protection Act and how hard it is to get a harmful substance on the virtual elimination list. We are acting seven years after the Americans acted on this issue, which shows that our mechanisms are much slower, even though our own agencies such as Health Canada and Environment Canada conducted their own studies that showed the importance of taking this step.
I hope this bill will also improve our ability to react on other chemical substances that we should be concerned about for our health and the environment. I hope that this will be part of the review of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act so that we can make sure this weakness in our legislation and in our approach can be cleaned up and improved.
I am hoping that we are taking an important step. It sounds as though we may have unanimity in this place, as we did last night when we voted on final reading of Bill C-307. Everyone in the House agreed to that similar measure going forward.
As I conclude, I would still like to challenge members that even though we are making progress on these very specific chemical compounds, we must also make progress on climate change and greenhouse gas emissions. The best way for us in Parliament to do that would be to bring back the legislation that was worked on in the first session by all political parties, where all the ideas were brought to the table and a new piece of legislation was written. We need to get that back on the agenda of the House of Commons. I would urge the government to do that without delay. If we leave this Parliament without having moved in a significant way on climate change, we will have missed the important opportunity to do something significant for our environment and the citizens of Canada.