Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to be able to rise in the House today to speak on Bill C-298, An Act to add perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and its salts to the Virtual Elimination List under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999.
As a member of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, I was pleased to be able to work with my colleagues to make this bill something that we can all support, and I am particularly pleased that we were able to strengthen it.
I appreciate the comments made by my colleagues on the environment committee about this bill. My assignment to the environment committee was one of the first bills I was able to get out of there, and that was a pleasure for me.
Bill C-298 seeks to add PFOS and its salts to the virtual elimination list under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. I am pleased to say that we are taking serious action on toxic substances.
As my colleague, the member for Wetaskiwin, mentioned earlier, our government introduced its chemicals management plan in December of last year as part of our commitment to taking strong action to protect Canadians and our environment from the possible harmful effects of chemical substances.
We invested $300 million in our chemicals management plan, a plan that will maintain Canada among the foremost leaders in chemicals management internationally. That plan was well received by both industry and environmental and health groups. We are now implementing it.
I will quote briefly from that plan. It states:
Chemical substances are everywhere around us—in the environment, our food, clothes, and even our bodies. Many of these chemical substances are used to improve the quality of our lives. Most of these chemical substances are not harmful to the environment or human health. However, some have the potential to cause harm, in certain doses, and should only be used when the risks are appropriately managed.
[Our] Chemicals Management Plan will improve the degree of protection against hazardous chemicals. It includes a number of new, proactive measures to make sure that chemical substances are managed properly.
We felt that PFOS was one of those substances we needed to take action on, and that is what we did. In fact, one of the first substances to receive our attention under that plan was PFOS.
My colleague has just explained why there is concern over this substance and what the government is doing about it domestically and with our international partners.
Bill C-298 has an important purpose, namely to recognize that PFOS is one of those substances that should be virtually eliminated, because it can persist for long periods of time in the environment, and it can accumulate in food chains. Substances with these characteristics are among the highest priority substances in our chemicals management plan.
As PFOS is a high concern substance for which the weight of evidence supports the conclusion that it is both persistent and bioaccumulative, the government supported the idea that it should be added to the list.
However, there were some issues with Bill C-298 as it was originally drafted. That is why the government proposed a series of important amendments.
The original bill would have not only required the addition of PFOS to the virtual elimination list under CEPA, but also have the costly development of an ineffective approach to pursuing the objective of virtual elimination. The government therefore could not support that original wording.
To understand this more fully, it is important to understand both the requirement that would have been put in place, and the principle route of entry of PFOS into the environment.
PFOS was used in formulations of stain and grease repellents that were applied to all kinds of fabrics such as carpets, jackets, sofa covers, just name it. As members heard from my colleague, it was also used to make firefighting foams more effective and to suppress fumes in certain industrial applications.
The wide variety of highly diffuse uses meant that PFOS was entering the environment from thousands of very small sources. However, since it is a commercial substance, intentionally added to things, we have the ability to stop it simply by putting in place a regulation that says we will not manufacture, import, sell or use the substance any more. That is what we have proposed to do under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, and we expect to finalize that regulation this year.
The bill would have required the government to develop and publish a level of quantification for PFOS. A level of quantification refers to the lowest amount of the substance that can be detected using sensitive but routine chemical analysis methods.
The bill would have required the development of a regulation concerning the quantity or concentration of the substance that may be released into the environment either alone or in combination with any other substance from any other source or type of source, a type of regulation sometimes referred to as a release limit regulation.
In the case of commercial substances like PFOS, the problem is it can be very difficult to define and regulate the sources of release. When considered in the context of our proposed regulation to prohibit the substance in Canada, it really adds no value. Indeed, by prohibiting the production, import or use of PFOS, we will be acting to eliminate potential sources of the release.
I would add that requirements to develop limits of quantification, or LOQs as they are called, or release limit regulations are not specific to this bill. CEPA contains similar requirements to publish LOQs and develop release limit regulations for substances that are put on the virtual elimination list.
However, the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, the same committee that considered this bill, has also produced its report on the five-year review of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.
In that report, the committee specifically identified these requirements as problematic. PFOS is a case in point. Moreover, the committee recommended that the act should recognize that prohibition regulations are an option toward achieving the objective of virtual elimination. We are proposing just that in the case of PFOS.
At committee, the government therefore proposed several important changes to the bill. We still wanted to put PFOS on the virtual elimination list, but we did not want to create obligations that would waste taxpayers' money or complicate the regulatory environment with ineffective regulations.
Therefore, we proposed amendments such that the bill will still require the government to put PFOS on the virtual elimination list, but without the requirement to publish a level of quantification, or develop a release limit regulation.
Another important amendment we made was to make sure that the bill addressed the same substances the government had identified as priorities through its scientific risk assessment. The risk assessment identified PFOS itself but also several related compounds, which are salts of PFOS as toxic, persistent and bioaccumulative. Bill C-298 therefore was amended to address PFOS and its salts.
Finally, CEPA put the onus of implementing virtual elimination on both the Minister of the Environment and the Minister of Health. We therefore proposed an amendment to this bill to make sure that both ministers were identified in this case, both for consistency and because in principle in the long run these persistent and bioaccumulative substances may be of concern to both people and the environment.
In conclusion, we are pleased that the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development was able to amend this bill, to make it something that we can support. We are committed to taking action against toxic substances, and this is further proof that this government is a government of action.
I also want to take this opportunity to thank the member for Beaches—East York for her efforts in working with the committee to implement amendments that allowed the committee to successfully get this bill through.