Thank you, Mr. Chair and members of the committee. We are very pleased to be before you today to assist you in your consideration of this bill.
I would like to begin by spending a moment on the important issue of blue-green algae and the role of phosphorus in its growth. We know that phosphorus-loading into our surface water can lead to a number of problems, including oxygen depletion, and that it can act as a nutrient that supports the growth of these algae.
When the nutrient levels in the water are high, the blue-green algae can form blooms that dominate the natural community and are capable of producing toxins that can be harmful to humans, livestock, and fish. The toxins themselves are odourless and tasteless, but there are other compounds that can result in foul taste or odour problems, which can impact on the recreational use of water and drinking water.
Environment Canada has been studying blue-green algae for a number of years and agrees that it is of the utmost importance that we reduce the risks of these toxins.
One factor in the proliferation of these blooms that we can affect is the concentration of phosphorus entering our surface waters. In fact, Environment Canada introduced regulations to do so in the 1970s, at that time under the Canada Water Act; these were later reflected in the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.
Since the regulation came into force, the use of phosphorus in laundry detergent has steadily diminished, but the growing number of dishwashers in Canadian households has meant that the phosphorus from this source has increased. This is why the government recently published a notice of intent in part 1 of the Canada Gazette to amend the phosphorus concentration regulations.
The notice of intent indicated that the proposed changes to these regulations would introduce a limit of 0.5% or lower by weight of phosphorus. At the present time, dishwasher detergent can contain up to 8%. As such, the results of this proposal would lead to considerable reductions in the level of phosphorus entering these waters.
At the same time, this notice proposed to further reduce the limit of phosphorus in laundry detergent from the current level of 2.2%, again to 0.5%.
Finally, the notice of intent indicated that other cleaning products would be examined to determine the feasibility of reducing their levels of phosphorus as well.
Over the past several months we've undertaken significant consultations, examined the current science in the field, and identified some best practices in other jurisdictions. On this basis, it is clear that the proposed changes I have described would require reformulation of products that are currently in the marketplace.
Industry has indicated that it's willing to meet these new limits, but it needs time to reformulate in order to find safe and effective alternatives. In fact, the Canadian Consumer Speciality Products Association in October led an initiative to voluntarily limit phosphorus concentrations to 0.5% by weight by July 2010. We also recognize that a number of U.S. states as well as the provinces of Quebec and Manitoba are proposing limits that would come into effect in 2010. For these reasons, we believe that consideration of any new standards should consider a similar date.
In undertaking our consultations and carrying out our research, we've also determined that it's important to consider reasonable exemptions for reasons of health and safety. This is of particular importance for institutions such as hospitals and restaurants, where machines use much bigger loads, have higher temperatures, and are cycling through much faster than those we would typically find in our household machines. Phosphorus plays a role in cleaning and sanitation for these specialized applications.
The results of our consultations have also underlined considerations regarding the level of phosphorus that could be prescribed in regulation.
It's important to note that all other jurisdictions, including Manitoba and Quebec, that we're aware of, have proposed limits of 0.5% phosphorous to accommodate incidental presence and the technical difficulties in trying to ensure 0% phosphorous.
Such a complete ban on phosphorous of these products in fact could constitute a violation of Canada's obligations under the WTO agreement on technical barriers to trade and NAFTA, as it could be seen as a measure that would be more trade restrictive than necessary, particularly when other jurisdictions are not imposing such a ban.
In addition to looking at ways to amend the phosphorous concentration regulations, Environment Canada is also working with provinces and territories to develop common standards and regulations for municipal waste water effluent that would also reduce the level of phosphorous entering our surface waters.
According to our current scientific information, this in fact is one of the most important sources of phosphorous entering our waterways, and the development of national standards implemented in jurisdictions for municipal waste water effluent will raise the Canadian standard for treatment and ensure that more phosphorous is filtered out during that treatment. We anticipate proposing such a regulation this year.
Before concluding with these remarks, we'd like to emphasize that each water body and its drainage basin is in fact unique and that the best approach to phosphate control and management can differ from system to system. While it may seem pollution sources are sometimes obvious, in reality this problem is complex because there are a number of sources.
In any given watershed, some of the phosphate sources can be difficult to locate and measure because they spread out, such as in the case with poorly managed septic systems. That is why we believe it's important for Environment Canada to continue to work with municipal, provincial, and territorial partners to ensure we take the necessary care to protect and preserve waters.
As outlined above, the Department of the Environment agrees that the proliferation of blue-green algae is an important and complex issue, so we are supportive of the intent of Bill C-469. Our intention is to amend the phosphorous concentration regulations to effectively reduce the amount of phosphorous these products contribute to Canadian waters, while providing the time necessary for the proposed limits to be met.
I will conclude simply by saying that Bill C-469 is certainly an option for addressing this important issue. It does, however, pose a number of challenges that will require consideration.
We'll be happy to answer any questions members of this committee may have and to provide any follow-up analysis or information you may request.