Phosphorus Control Act

An Act to limit the use of phosphorus in dishwasher detergent

This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in September 2008.


Francis Scarpaleggia  Liberal

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)


Not active, as of Oct. 22, 2007
(This bill did not become law.)


This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment requires the Minister of the Environment to make regulations prohibiting the use, sale, manufacture and distribution of dishwasher detergent containing more than 0.5 per cent phosphorus by weight within 12 months after the enactment comes into force.


All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Canadian Environmental Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

February 13th, 2008 / 6:15 p.m.
See context


Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak this evening to Bill C-469, which arose from two or three sessions the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development held last spring—a committee of which I am a member. This bill is modelled on a private member's bill that I tabled shortly beforehand, Bill C-464, which shares the same objective as the Bloc bill.

My colleagues and I support Bill C-469 and we will vote to refer it to the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development to be studied and amended. My own Bill C-464 is more detailed. I hope a few amendments will be made in the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development to add more detail to Bill C-469.

There are some shortcomings with this bill. I would like to go over them briefly. It is normal for private members' bills not to be entirely perfect, because of course private members do not have the same resources at their disposal as governments and ministers introducing legislation. It is very normal and understandable that bills might need some amendments and a bit more work in committee.

My own bill, Bill C-464, would technically eliminate phosphates from dishwashing detergent. In fact, it would reduce the phosphate level to 0.5% by weight. The main reason for this is that it makes virtually no sense to completely eliminate the phosphate levels in dishwashing detergent, because, number one, there are phosphates, I am told, in the packaging of detergents, which is what keeps the packaging firm. There will always be a trace amount of phosphates in any detergent.

When we get to committee, we will have to hear from industry representatives and technical experts from the Department of the Environment, but I am surmising that we might have to amend the bill to allow 0.5% by weight.

Also, it is quite possible we will have to amend the bill to allow some exceptions. For example, a minimal amount of phosphates may be required for detergents that are used at the institutional level, for instance, in hospitals, nursing homes and schools, where there are obviously some potential public health concerns that would have to be alleviated by having some level of phosphates in the detergent. No doubt we will get to that issue in committee.

By way of history, it is very interesting to note that laundry detergents have had very low levels of phosphates for many years, because the regulations under CEPA for laundry detergents were created within the context of the Canada-U.S. Great Lakes water quality agreement. These levels were regulated long before dishwashers became popular and essentially ubiquitous. At the time, the government was focused only on laundry detergent. That is why the CEPA regulations at the moment do not include regulations for phosphates in dishwashing detergent. That is a bit of an anomaly of history and is something to take note of.

The issue of phosphates in laundry detergent is really not a pressing issue at all. It is the dishwashing detergent that we have to focus on and that is why my bill focused specifically on that.

We have to ask ourselves why we need this Bloc bill or my bill in the first place. I will give credit to my colleague from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, who presented a motion to the environment committee to have discussions on the issue of phosphates. This was done many months ago and yet there has been no government action on this issue. This is why we need two private members' bills. Even if they are not perfect bills, we need private members' bills because the government has not acted on the issue, even though the issue of phosphates in dishwashing detergent made headlines all over Quebec almost a year ago.

Some people may say that the government is working on amending these regulations. There are two things wrong with that explanation. First, it does not take a lot to make a minor change to CEPA regulations to deal with phosphates. Second, three or four weeks ago when officials from Environment Canada appeared before the environment committee, I asked the question: why do we not have regulations in CEPA to deal with phosphates in dishwashing detergent?

Do members know what I was told? I do not blame the officials for this. In fact, the minister himself should have been present to answer the questions, but he could only stay an hour that day.

I was told that it was not a priority. They said that phosphates in dishwashing detergent is not a priority for them. That was two weeks ago. Then, of course, there was probably a bit of public pressure or some media attention given to the issue again and, lo and behold, we were told a couple of weeks later that the government will amend CEPA regulations.

This is endemic in the Conservative government. The government never acts on the obvious. It never recognizes the truth of the matter until public pressure is put on it. Then it reacts, but late. That is why we need two private members' bills: to put the government on notice that it should be doing the right thing.

Some people, especially on the government side, originally responded that phosphates in dishwashing detergent make up only 1.5% of the problem of phosphorus in water. Of course, there is the whole issue of agricultural fertilizers and runoff from agricultural lands that gets into the waterways, and of course that is a problem. There is also the problem of municipal sewage effluent, which leads to phosphorus in waterways.

So why devote energy to removing phosphates from dishwashing detergent when this is not a huge part of the problem? In politics, there are issues that are catalysts. They may sound simple and be simple, but they somehow allow us to open the door to a broad range of other related issues.

When it comes to climate change, we might focus on something like home renovations to make someone's home more energy efficient. The problem is much more complex than that, I agree, but when we talk about something that is concrete and understandable, we generate public debate. It creates the impetus or the political will to deal with the larger problem, which is a lot more complicated.

It is the same with the phosphate issue. It is a small part of the problem, but it gets discussion going about the quality of our water and also about the need for a national water strategy, which we still do not have. After it was mentioned in passing in the last budget and given lip service in the throne speech, we still do not have a national water strategy. Maybe we need to be talking about dishwashing detergent, because even though it is a small problem, it is something people can relate to and understand.

While the problem of dishwashing detergent is minor in some parts of the country, it is in fact major in Quebec, especially in lakes in the Laurentians, where much of the phosphorus is from cottagers using dishwashers.

Canadian Environmental Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

January 28th, 2008 / 11:40 a.m.
See context


Thomas Mulcair NDP Outremont, QC

Mr. Speaker, I had an opportunity earlier, in a previous question, to congratulate my colleague from Berthier—Maskinongé on his initiative, and I would like to begin by reiterating my congratulations.

The bill is C-469, An Act to amend the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (use of phosphorus).

From the question I put to my colleague earlier, it will be clear that we in the NDP are persuaded that any attempt to end the plague of blue-green algae—my colleague called it a “wave”, and it is indeed a wave of blue-green algae, but more importantly it is a plague—that does not include a strong agricultural component is destined to fail. Even though we agree on the effort being made here, in terms of prohibiting the use of phosphates in dishwasher detergent, we believe that the federal government can do more, particularly when we see the very large amounts of money we have available right now.

We have calculated the cost of providing proper compensation for farmers in Quebec, where there is a 10-metre riparian buffer strip. On average, we could pay $1,500 per hectare per year as compensation for that buffer strip. There are 7,000 kilometres of buffer strips, and it would be of little consequence if that were increased to 10,000 kilometres—because human nature being what it is, I imagine that as soon as compensation is offered, more will be discovered. A strip one kilometre long by 10 metres wide is exactly equal to one hectare. At $1,500 per hectare, the 10,000 hectares in question in Quebec would cost $15 million. It was calculated that it would cost $50 million altogether to provide genuine protection for all of the navigable and floatable watercourses in Canada. And this is a federal responsibility; Fisheries and Oceans Canada is already working on it.

We are not saying that the federal government will dictate any conditions. Nothing would be imposed; rather, it would be a matter of working together with the provinces and reaching agreements. I am persuaded that if our common goal is to achieve a result, we will be able to find ways of doing it.

We already have experience in this: the Bloc Québécois insisted on voting against an NDP bill whose intent was to make pesticide rules throughout Canada as stringent as the rules that already exist in Quebec. Do we think that a pesticide that makes its way into the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin, but originated in Ontario, could not have negative consequences for the health of people in Quebec?

This demonstrates that we have to take a comprehensive view when we are dealing with environmental issues. When we talk about sustainable development, we have to take the environmental, economic and social aspects into account. We also have to understand that political borders mean very little.

When I was the Quebec Minister of the Environment, I remember spending two days in the United States with Manitoba Premier Gary Doer, to meet American officials. At the time, the governor of the state of North Dakota wanted to divert the water from Devils Lake to the Sheyenne River which, as we know, is a tributary of the Red River, which flows into Lake Winnipeg, a body of water that is already quite polluted by a number of other sources of pollution. Such a measure was out of the question as far as we were concerned. It is interesting to note that U.S. authorities were happily prepared to circumvent the Boundary Waters Treaty, which has been in existence for about a century between the United States and Canada. We managed to find a solution, in cooperation with the Americans.

So, considering that we are able to deal with these issues at the international level, the various levels of government within a country should be able to cooperate and find solutions. Indeed, it is all about finding a solution.

When I became minister in 2003, there was a huge blue-green algae problem in Missisquoi Bay, which is the body of water located at the top of Lake Champlain, on the Quebec side. Also, the river with the same name meanders over a long distance in the United States, before reaching Canada in Missisquoi Bay. It was estimated that 60% of the phosphorus that was creating a major blue-green algae problem was from the United States. Therefore, there would have been no point in introducing a bill that would not have had an international component. And there would have been no point in trying to solve the issue, if we did not deal with the agricultural aspect.

Whenever I talk about this issue, I am always careful to point out that we have no intention of blaming the agricultural industry. I realized something a long time ago, namely that 95% of farm producers already spend huge amounts of money to comply with agricultural standards.

The problem with riparian buffer strips that are only three metres wide is that it is virtually impossible to enforce them very effectively. It is very difficult.

The New Democratic Party thinks that if we followed the example set by Prince Edward Island and extended these strips to ten metres, we would get much better, much more positive results.

Throughout all my work with the Union des producteurs agricoles du Québec, that group has always stated unequivocally that it was not fundamentally opposed to wider buffer strips. Farmers have always told me, though, that this was their land and they wanted to be compensated if they were not going to be allowed to use it. We are actually asking them for something: to provide part of their arable land in the greater public interest.

Lawyers might say that people have no right to be compensated for complying with laws and regulations. This case is unusual, though, because our consciousness has been raised and we are realizing now that some of the things we did in the past with our means of production are having undesirable effects. So if we want to ask producers to refrain from farming within a 30-foot or 35-foot riparian strip, they should be compensated. That is what the NDP is proposing.

My colleague who introduced the bill on the phosphates in dishwasher products sits on the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development. We, for our part, are studying the possibility of working together with the Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food.

I would like to tell the House a little story. When we were in the Saint-Valérien-de-Milton area last summer to announce our plan, it was very interesting to see important representatives there from both the environmental sector, including Richard Marois of the Montérégie regional environmental council, and the agricultural sector. This was the best possible proof, in my view, of what a good job the NDP is doing. Instead of a divisive plan, we had one that brought the agricultural community and the environmental community together in support of a common cause. That is precisely what needs to be done in environmental issues.

I listened very closely to what my Liberal colleague from Ottawa South had to say and could not make any sense of it at all. I simply could not get over it. This is what he said was the most important, and I will quote it, because stuff like this simply cannot be made up:

“We can't punish the industry”.

What an amazing knee-jerk reaction from someone who once chaired a round table on sustainable development, namely the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy. He is pitting these two areas one against the other. He said that we cannot punish the industry. The idea here is not to punish the industry but rather to protect the environment.

The member referred to Bill C-464 introduced by his colleague from Lac-Saint-Louis, whom I know well and for whom I have the highest regard. The issue is not whether or not to support the industry. Yet, those were his words.

The hon. member for Lac-Saint-Louis will soon be hosting with people from McGill University an important evening event at which experts will give presentations about water. I want to make sure that someone in the audience asks him a question, quoting word for word what the member for Ottawa Centre just said. It sure is amazing to hear the colleague of a member who will be hosting an event about water protection tell this House that we should support the industry. That is precisely the message contained in his Bill C-464.

Sometimes a choice has to be made between supporting the industry and supporting the environment. The member for Berthier—Maskinongé is on the right track. We will support his bill, but we would like its scope to be expanded. That is why the NDP will continue to work in conjunction with the agricultural community.

Canadian Environmental Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

January 28th, 2008 / 11:30 a.m.
See context


David McGuinty Liberal Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for introducing this bill, which would address a complicated issue that has a profound impact on the health of Canadians.

I would like to start by saying that I appreciate the objective of Bill C-469 and I will support it so that the House may bring it before a committee. However, a number of things must be examined before this bill can become law and take effect.

I would like to take a few minutes to debate some logical and necessary amendments, which I feel should be included in the bill at committee stage.

Why regulate phosphorus?

It is important to understand why it is necessary to regulate phosphorus. Scientists have known for a long time that phosphorus, a naturally occurring substance, contributes significantly to the growth of blue-green algae, which contains cyanobacteria that is toxic to aquatic life as well as to humans when we drink it. Boiling the affected water does not destroy cyanobacteria, so it is vital that we stop phosphorus pollution at its source.

To give members an idea of the severity of the problem and of how blue-green algae is becoming an increasingly serious threat to the health of our communities, I note simply that last summer a record number of Canadian lakes and rivers were contaminated with this algae. In Quebec alone, 156 were affected and 90 were closed to swimming and boating. That is more than double the number of closures in the summer of 2006.

While the primary cause of blue-green algae is runoff from farm fertilizers and septic systems, together accounting for 98% of the problem, the member for Berthier—Maskinongé is correct that the phosphorus levels in certain kinds of detergents, where it is added as a stain remover and cleanser, are also of significant concern.

However, Bill C-469 goes too far. It calls for a complete ban on phosphorus when regulating the amount of phosphorus in detergents is all we need to do. It does not adequately distinguish between laundry detergents and different types of dishwashing detergent.

Allow me to make four points that will help clarify these issues for the House.

First, Bill C-469 rashly calls for the prohibition of phosphorus in laundry detergents. Phosphorus is added to laundry detergents to help with rinsing ions, such as calcium and magnesium, in hard water so that other components of the soap can properly clean the clothing. However, the member's bill does not consider the fact that for several years now Canada has had regulations limiting the concentration of phosphorus in laundry detergents. The Phosphorus Concentration Regulations, in the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, limit the concentration of phosphorus in laundry detergents to 2.2% by weight. And these regulations are very effective.

For example, they helped drastically reduce the proliferation of blue-green algae in the Great Lakes, while still allowing consumers to use the minimum amount of phosphorus needed to do their laundry. I must also point out that manufacturers have found another ingredient that can help remove ions from hard water. Of these manufacturers, 95% have completely stopped using phosphorus. It is now almost exclusively used for industrial and commercial activities.

Therefore, prohibiting phosphorus in laundry detergents seems pointless and inconsistent with our current regulations.

Second, Bill C-469 refers generally to all dishwashing detergent. In truth, we need be concerned only with automatic dishwashing detergent. Phosphorus is added to automatic dishwashing detergents so it can break up dried or greasy food soils, remove calcium lime film, sanitize dishes and help keep the dishwasher's jets and pipes free from obstruction so the machine can operate using less water and less energy. This is very different from liquid hand-dishwashing detergent, which is surfactant based and does not contain phosphorus. In my view it makes no sense to regulate all dishwashing detergent in general when we need be concerned with only one specific kind.

The problem dates back to when the original phosphorus control regulations were drafted, which was long before automatic dishwashers became a popular household appliance. Accordingly, while the phosphorus concentration of laundry detergents in Canada can be no more than 2.2% by weight, today most major brands of automatic dishwashing detergent have phosphate levels ranging from 3.3% to 8.7%. Some are as high as 20%. As we can see, the challenge is therefore not that these products contain phosphorus; it is that we are not controlling how much they contain.

Fortunately, Canadian industries are well aware of the problem. They are moving to correct it. The Canadian Consumer Specialty Products Association, whose member companies produce 86% of all the household automatic dishwashing detergent in Canada sold in Canada, is leading an industry initiative to limit phosphorus in automatic dishwashing detergent to a maximum of 0.5% by weight, effective July 2010. This would be the toughest standard in the world.

I believe we should support these companies in this initiative. Banning phosphorus outright would seem to unnecessarily and unduly punish an industry that is already adapting to address our concerns.

That is the third problem with Bill C-469. The wording of the bill does not take into account the fact that phosphorous is still an essential ingredient in dishwasher detergent, especially in industrial and commercial settings, where the machines are designed for large volumes of dishes and shorter cycles.

Unlike laundry detergent, the phosphorous in dishwasher detergent disinfects the dishes. Banning it completely could therefore seriously affect the health of Canadians. Experiments have shown that there is no suitable substitute for phosphorous at this time that can provide the level of cleanliness that consumers are looking for. One possible substitute, an alkali metal carbonate salt, has not yet been thoroughly tested and, therefore, the necessary quantities cannot be produced.

My fourth and final point has to do with the fact that, in deciding what Canada should do, the honourable members should have a clear understanding of the measures taken by some other jurisdictions, such as the United States and the European Union.

In the United States, regulating phosphorous is a state issue, not a federal one. In the 1990s, the state of Arizona began to phase out phosphorous. In response, its citizens started driving across the border into neighbouring states to get better automatic dishwashing detergents because those available to them did not work.

As of today, most jurisdictions in the U.S. are working with industry and moving to the standard of 0.5% in household automatic dishwashers by July 2010. Across the Atlantic, only a few countries in the European Union even have regulations on phosphates and none of them have implemented a complete ban. I mention this to underscore that North American industries are already moving to a standard that is equal to or better than standards anywhere else in the world.

I agree with the hon. member for Berthier—Maskinongé. Quite frankly, the government dragged its feet on this file. It only recently announced that it will review the changes to the regulations.

Before Bill C-469 was introduced in the House, my Liberal colleague from Lac-Saint-Louis presented another bill on this topic, namely, Bill C-464. My hon. colleague's bill takes into account the factors I have discussed here today and supports Canadian industries by asking the government to limit the maximum concentration of phosphorous in dishwasher detergent to 0.5%.

In closing, it seems only logical to harmonize regulations across the North American market and that Parliament should seek to implement regulations in line with those of the rest of the international community.

It is my hope that if Bill C-469 is sent to committee it can be amended in a way that reflects the wisdom of Bill C-464.

Phosphorus Control ActRoutine Proceedings

October 22nd, 2007 / 3:05 p.m.
See context


Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-464, An Act to limit the use of phosphorus in dishwasher detergent.

Mr. Speaker, as members may know from reading the newspapers this summer, there is a significant blue-green algae problem in the province of Quebec. While this problem is not caused solely by phosphates in detergents and especially dishwasher detergents, it is time that we moved on this to bring the level down to 0.5% by weight.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)