Evidence of meeting #8 for Environment and Sustainable Development in the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was cepa.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Paul Glover  Director General, Safe Environments Programme, Department of Health
Robert Smith  Director, Environment Accounts and Statistics, Statistics Canada
Kapil Khatter  Director, Health and Environment, PollutionWatch
Rick Smith  Executive Director, Environmental Defence, PollutionWatch
John Moffet  Acting Director General, Systems and Priorities, Department of the Environment
Isra Levy  Chief Medical Officer and Director, Office of Public Health, Canadian Medical Association
John Wellner  Director, Health Policy, Ontario Medical Association

3:35 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Bob Mills

I believe we have a couple of guests caught in the lineup downstairs. I think it's quite long, so I believe we will start.

I'd like to take this opportunity to welcome our guests. As you can see, we have a number of presenters today. I would ask that you keep it as brief as you can. We do allow ten minutes. The main thing is that we would like an opportunity for the members to ask the questions they want to ask about the issue.

As for our guests, as you know, we are basically looking at a number of round tables dealing with different subjects. To this point, we've had one session. This one, of course, is designed to measure the success of CEPA, to give us an idea, as committee members, of some of the changes we might want to make or of just how effective CEPA really is. That's what we hope to hear from you today.

I believe we'll follow the order here, with Mr. Glover going first. We'll catch Mr. Moffet when he gets through security.

3:35 p.m.

Paul Glover Director General, Safe Environments Programme, Department of Health

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I am very pleased to be here today with other members of the round table. I look forward to the discussion.

First and foremost, Mr. Chair, if it pleases the committee, the last time I was before you, there were some questions about Health Canada's evaluation. It was a draft, and it was not available. I'm pleased to report that it is no longer a draft, and it is available. It was provided to the clerk. That is now available to all members.

With respect to measuring success, I'd like to begin, very briefly, by describing what Health Canada is responsible for under CEPA. It is an act that is shared between the Minister of Health and the Minister of the Environment.

The Minister of Health's role and Health Canada's role is really around health assessments of new and existing substances. If you're thinking about the act in particular, that's paragraph 64(c) under existing substances--the impact on human health. We're also required to do research on hormone-disrupting substances; there are a number of things we do there. We're also required to conduct research relating to the role of substances in illness and to publish health studies about the effects of different substances on human health. That's basically what we do. We take a look at these things from a health point of view to determine the impact they are, or are not, having.

The second thing I would like to provide to committee members is a brief outline of how we do that. Health Canada does adopt a risk-based approach, which is something that I'm sure you'll be hearing a fair bit about. Risk is made up of two key components: hazard and exposure. We believe it's very important to consider both of those.

With respect to hazard, we look at the impact a substance has on human health. In putting both the hazard and the exposure together, the way we do that is very conservative. Our process in doing a risk assessment is to take a look at the lowest observable effect that a substance has--not the highest, not the medium, not the average. As soon as we see an impact on human health, whether through research, lab studies, animal studies, etc., that is the lowest level. That's what we use to determine hazard information. Then on the flip side, for exposure, we take the worst case scenario and assume that is the norm.

If you take those two extremes and put them together, you can see how we have a very conservative assessment with respect to human health. That's how we go about it. That's the process for conducting a risk assessment for all existing substances. All our risk assessments are peer reviewed and published.

Because we understand that science can come forward on any one issue with multiple points of view, we take a weight-of-evidence approach. We find it's always possible for somebody to say that this other science is wrong and to present a countering view one way or the other. On the existing substances side, we tend to deal with data-rich..., i.e. there's a lot of information. So we take a weight-of-evidence approach, that is information that is generally available in peer-reviewed, published documents. That's to help us counter the extreme views one way or the other. That's how we go about assessing substances from a health point of view: both hazard and exposure are put together in a very conservative manner to ensure that we are protective of human health.

I want to reiterate that both Health Canada and Environment Canada have a responsibility to deal with all new substances that want to be used in this country. That means some 800 substances, more or less, are brought forward and notified every year. That means they're asked to be used in this country. We go through a fairly similar process.... The timeframes are much shorter, so it's much more rapid, but we do come to a conclusion on those same terms.

We also do work with respect to air quality and water quality. We publish guidelines that the provinces use with respect to substances in water: arsenic, TCE, and other things. Those are made available. And we have been conducting studies on both indoor and outdoor air quality to determine the level of pollutants and the impact those have on human health. We have a number of examples in the report that you might find interesting.

We have also been conducting research, as per the requirements under CEPA, on hormone disrupting substances. That is ongoing work in an attempt to better understand this new and emerging science, and we'll continue that work.

The other point that I would like to make with committee members as I wrap up is that we have been very active in getting ready for categorization. That will be very important for Canada as a country. We will be the first country to have gone through all 23,000 substances in use domestically. Every country has its own inventory of substances already in use. Canada will be one of the first countries to have gone through that full list to determine priorities from both a health and an environment point of view. So Health Canada will have gone through all of those 23,000 substances and taken a look at them from two points of view. What do we believe is the hazard profile of that? Has anybody else declared that substance hazardous? It is on a list? That's a trigger for us to do more work.

The other piece will be ready in September, as per the legislation. It's the potential for exposure. We will be able to put those two things together to come up with the real set of priorities for those things that we think require further work both in terms of assessment, and in terms of management right away. We think this will provide an excellent base of information that few other jurisdictions in the world will have, and will really allow us to set our priorities as we move forward to make sure we're working on and assessing the right substances, and asking to manage the right substances from a human health point of view.

That, in a nutshell, is what we do, and how we do our work. If you're interested in numbers, I believe Environment Canada has reported on some of this in the past. In terms of schedule 1 risk assessments, we did some 69 representing over 550 different chemicals. We're involved in 12 prohibitions, 21 regulations, etc. There is a list of those things that we have been involved in. Again, Environment is the lead department. Our role is to contribute to health perspective on those, something we have attempted to do quite actively as we move forward.

That concludes my remarks about how we do our work and how we would assess and measure it.

3:40 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Bob Mills

Good. Thank you very much. Thank you for keeping it to seven minutes and twenty seconds.

Mr. Smith, go ahead, please.

3:40 p.m.

Robert Smith Director, Environment Accounts and Statistics, Statistics Canada

Thank you, Mr. Chair. It's a pleasure to be here.

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.

My name is Robert Smith. I'm the director of environment accounts and statistics at Statistics Canada. I don't have anything to tell you today about Statistics Canada's involvement particularly with the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, because we actually have no involvement with that act, but I am here to tell you a little bit about Statistics Canada's activities in reporting on the environment, which is obviously relevant to today's topic of measuring success.

I'll be very, very brief. There are just a few products that I want to bring to your attention.

In particular, I think copies of my presentation have been distributed to all of you, and attached to that I hope you will find copies in English and French of this particular publication that I want to draw your attention to.

If you look at slide three of my presentation, you'll see a bit of history of this publication. In fact, it dates back to the year 2000, when the finance minister at the time asked the national round table to make some recommendations to the government on how the government might report on sustainability in a broad way. The national round table convened a three-year process to consider that question of reporting on sustainability and ultimately recommended six indicators that the government might report, three of which were chosen by the government for reporting in 2004.

Environment Canada, Health Canada, and Statistics Canada were asked to jointly prepare these three new indicators, and this document is in fact the first report of those three indicators. So, in some sense, the report does represent the latest and one of the more significant efforts of the government to report on environmental progress, and I thought it was important that it be brought to the committee's attention today.

You can find an electronic copy of the report and the supporting documents to the report on Statistics Canada's website, and I've given you the address for that.

The next version of this report will be prepared in November of this year, and it will be an annual report from that point forward. We're working on improvements to the indicators on a variety of fronts--methodological, conceptual, and empirical--and there's the possibility that the indicator set will expand over time as new indicators of sustainability are proposed and adopted.

As I say, that was the particular report that I most wanted to bring to your attention today.

In the couple of minutes that I have left, I'll just draw your attention to two other sets of products that are produced by Statistics Canada.

The first of these is mentioned in slide five. This is a compendium of environmental statistics that Statistics Canada has been producing now for nearly 30 years, actually. We produced it for a long time on a five-year basis, but more recently we've been preparing this compendium on an annual basis. It's called Human Activity and the Environment, and it really is a report that describes exactly what its title would suggest. It is a broad statistical portrait of human activities in their broadest sense and their implications for the environment.

It's a very popular report. We put it out on an annual basis, as I said. It's used an awful lot by teachers because it's a reasonably accessible report. High school students can read it and understand it fairly easily.

Each annual version of the report covers one issue in depth. For example, if you look at the 2005 edition, which I've given you the web link for, you'll find that the 2005 edition covered waste management issues in considerable detail. The year before that, we dealt with water resources; the year before that it was energy; and before that it was air quality.

We're working on this year's report, which will look at transportation and the environment, and future reports we hope will cover issues related to cities and the environment. Then to mark the International Polar Year in 2008, we will focus on northern issues.

So I wanted to draw your attention to that report. You can access it quite easily on our website.

The final set of products that I'd like to mention to you quickly are simply the surveys that Statistics Canada runs on environmental topics. We have four surveys that we've been running for about a decade now and we have good established time series for those surveys. They cover the use of environmental protection technologies by businesses and governments.They also cover the production of those same technologies by companies that are specialists in environmental goods and services, and we also cover waste management activities in that set of established surveys.

Our survey program is under a considerable expansion right now. Statistics Canada has recently made a significant investment in the expansion of its environmental statistics program. With that money we're going to be undertaking new surveys in the areas related to households and the environment; the industrial consumption of water; a survey of water quality at municipal water treatment plants; and a survey of farmers, to get a handle on the quantities of water that they use for irrigation and livestock watering purposes.

That's a very quick overview of some of Statistics Canada's main environmental information products. There are others I could talk about, but I won't because of the need to keep my presentation short. In summary, we hope that many of these products do provide value in terms of measuring progress and success with respect to the environment.

I'm more than happy to respond to questions about any of the products, or indeed about some of the products I didn't talk about, if there's interest in those as well.

3:50 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Bob Mills

Good. Thank you, Mr. Smith. I'm sure there will be some questions.

Mr. Khatter.

3:50 p.m.

Dr. Kapil Khatter Director, Health and Environment, PollutionWatch

Thank you, Chair, and committee members.

My name is Kapil Khatter. I'm a family physician, and I'm the director of health and environment for PollutionWatch.

I'll be splitting my time with my colleague, Rick Smith, who is the executive director of Environmental Defence.

PollutionWatch is a project of Environmental Defence. The mission of both Environmental Defence and PollutionWatch is to protect the environment and human health nation-wide, through research, education, and legal means when necessary.

CEPA has the same goals of protecting human health and the environment. We are here today because we believe CEPA is not accomplishing this task.

CEPA's goals are set out in the administrative duties. They include preventative and remedial measures to protect, enhance, and restore the environment; implementing an ecosystem approach that considers the unique and fundamental characteristics of ecosystems; establishing consistent standards of environmental and health protection; protecting the environment, including its biological diversity, and human health; and acting expeditiously and diligently to assess the risks that substances pose to the environment and human health. In addition, the preamble specifically talks about the need to virtually eliminate the most persistent and biocumulative substances.

In order the determine the success or failure of CEPA in terms of these goals, we can look at the impact that environmental pollution is having on the health of Canadians, the levels of pollutants being discharged into the environment, the number of toxic chemicals that have been assessed, regulated, and, in particular, eliminated, and the number of harmful substances that are found in our bodies. In our opinion, CEPA fails on all these tests.

In terms of the impact on human health, our colleagues from the medical association will talk about the fact that in Ontario alone two air pollutants, ground-level ozone and fine particulate matter, are responsible for over 5,800 premature deaths and over 16,800 hospital admissions. It's 2005 data. In addition, there are many health problems that we suspect have environmental contributions that are on the rise: autism, attention deficit disorder, certain birth defects, premature puberty, and certain cancers.

In terms of the CEPA goals, if you look at releases to the environment, Canada has fallen behind internationally on emissions. We're ranked 28th out of 29 in emissions among industrialized countries. According to the national pollutant release inventory, Canadian industry emitted over four billion kilograms of air pollutants in 2003. For facilities and pollutants reported throughout 1995 to 2003, it's an increase of 12%.

A recent comparison between Canadian and U.S. industrial sites in the Great Lakes found that per facility we emit 93% more potentially cancer-causing substances and over four times as many pollutants that can cause reproductive or developmental harm.

In terms of looking at the assessments and the elimination of substances under CEPA, we feel the CEPA process has been terribly slow. A really good example of that is virtual elimination. As I said, the preamble calls for the virtual elimination of persistent and biocumulative toxic substances. There is a mechanism for virtual elimination in the act, but only one substance so far has been proposed for virtual elimination and none have so far been eliminated.

Finally, in terms of the measures I pointed out, a fourth measure of CEPA's success or failure at protecting health in particular is the level of chemicals found in our bodies. Environmental Defence recently tested families for chemical contamination. My colleague Rick Smith will speak to those results.

3:50 p.m.

Rick Smith Executive Director, Environmental Defence, PollutionWatch

Thank you very much.

Thank you for the invitation to be here, Monsieur le président.

As Dr. Khatter just mentioned, we released a report last week, and I hope you have a copy in front of you, called Polluted Children, Toxic Nation. In a nutshell, we tested five Canadian families from right across the country--families from downtowns, families from rural areas, families from different walks of life, families of different ethnicities. Within those families, we tested seven kids and six adults. We tested for 68 toxic pollutants, and we deliberately chose a range of pollutants--some pollutants that our bodies primarily absorb through breathing air pollution and some pollutants that we pick up from products in our homes and offices.

What we found is that in the folks we tested, 46 of the 68 toxic pollutants were present; and probably most shockingly, in many cases, virtually every family of chemicals we tested for was present. There were some kids who had higher levels of these contaminants than their parents.

Surely this is precisely the kind of measure of success, or frankly, measure of failure, that this committee should be looking at when it comes to the performance of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.

I think it's noteworthy that among volunteers from the city of Sarnia, Ontario, including volunteers from our first nations community within the boundaries of the city of Sarnia, which you might have seen profiled on The National a couple of months back, the pollution is so bad that the sex ratio of babies born in this community is now two to one, girls to boys. The pollution has actually changed the sex ratio of children being born in this community.

I was joking with somebody before this presentation that my presentation on measures of success for CEPA would be very brief, because frankly, I don't think that CEPA can be said to have been terribly successful. The act has not met its goals. It has not been effective in preventing pollution or in reducing toxic exposure. But we believe that there are ways to make CEPA better.

I want to outline very quickly just four areas that we hope this committee takes a look at in terms of improving CEPA: timelines, consumer products, burden of proof, and the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence ecosystem.

As my colleague underlined, CEPA sets out a duty to expeditiously and diligently assess and manage substances, yet it lacks timelines at important stages in this process, and this allows chemicals to remain on the market with unfinished assessments and inadequate data. All we have to do is look at Canada's performance with respect to other industrialized countries. For example, the chemical PFOS was mostly banned in the United States in 2000, but in Canada, it took until October 2004 to post an assessment, and that assessment still has not been finalized.

CEPA's preamble recognizes the need to virtually eliminate persistent and bioaccumulative toxic substances, but the mechanism in the act really does not allow this to occur. There are administrative barriers that prevent this, one example being the requirement to measure the smallest measurable level. This is the kind of administrative change that we think can be made to the act to make a big difference.

According to its administrative duties, CEPA sets out to create consistent standards, yet frankly, there are different standards when it comes to consumer products. As Mr. Glover pointed out, new substances introduced to the market have to meet one test; 23,000 substances that have essentially been grandfathered are held to a lesser test. Many of these substances are known carcinogens, known neurotoxins, and known hormone disruptors. They are still on the market. We have them in the bodies of Canadian adults and children. And the pace of change when it comes to regulating these substances is glacial, to say the least.

The burden of proof of safety is not consistent, either. Frankly, we have a major concern that when September of this year rolls around and Environment Canada finishes its categorization of these 23,000 substances, that the Government of Canada simply will not have the resources, as things are currently structured, to plow through the regulation of these substances. We think it's fair, as other industrialized countries do, to ask industry to prove that these things are safe before their continued use in the market is allowed.

Finally, let's take a look at pollution hot spots. The Great Lakes and St. Lawrence basin is home to over one-third of Canadians. It's also the source of about 45% of all air pollution emissions in the country, so we have in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence basin a congruence between a large percentage of the Canadian population and a very large amount of pollution. We think that in terms of bang for the buck, different requirements and different provisions for pollution hot spots like this one make a lot of sense.

Let me just conclude by saying that I want to thank the committee very much for the care and the diligence you bring to this review. The Canadian Environmental Protection Act is a complicated and arcane piece of legislation. At the end of the day, this review is about getting this act right, getting our federal framework right to protect the health of Canadian children, to reduce the number of smog days in our cities, and to make sure that Canada starts measuring up to standards that already exist in the United States and in Europe. These are the kinds of measurable results that we're hoping to see out of this review, and I want to thank you very much for undertaking it.

4 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Bob Mills

Good. Thank you very much, Mr. Smith.

Mr. Moffet, did you have anything you wanted to say, or would you just like to answer questions?

4 p.m.

John Moffet Acting Director General, Systems and Priorities, Department of the Environment

I'm here to answer questions.

4 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Bob Mills

Okay, fine.

We'll go on, then, to the Ontario Medical Association. I'm not sure who's going to speak first, or will both be speaking?

Dr. Levy, thank you.

4 p.m.

Dr. Isra Levy Chief Medical Officer and Director, Office of Public Health, Canadian Medical Association

Thanks, Mr. Chair and honourable committee members.

Good afternoon, everyone.

There will be copies of my notes circulated to you within the next day or two in both English and French. I apologize that they aren't available at the moment.

I am Dr. Isra Levy. I'm a public health physician and the chief medical officer and director of the office for public health at the Canadian Medical Association. I'm delighted to be participating in your round table today and I am grateful for the invitation. With me is Mr. John Wellner, director of health policy at our sister organization, the Ontario Medical Association.

Of course, CEPA is a key piece of federal environmental legislation. For us at the CMA and for our common members at the OMA, it is really primarily about health. Canada's doctors see the topic of hearings on measuring CEPA's success in terms of the impact on our medical practices, and more particularly on our patients, so to us the measurement of success that matters is actually simply good health in our patients.

Unfortunately, I must tell you that we still see the negative impacts of environmental degradation on many of our patients every day. We are pleased, therefore, to participate in this review of CEPA, because, as I've said, for us the measure of health benefits and health outcomes is what matters. Those health benefits and health outcomes obviously can occur over the short or long term, but those that stem from reduced exposure to environmental contaminants is, to us, an important measure of our health as a nation.

As you know, health outcomes are directly linked to the physical environment in many ways. We know from the crises in Walkerton, Collingwood, North Battleford, and many first nations communities the devastating effect that contaminated water can have on individuals and families.

We know from the smog health studies undertaken by my colleague at the OMA, by Health Canada, and by others about the public health crisis of polluted air that is now evident in many parts of Canada. It is a crisis; these are not empty words.

We're at the point now that science allows us to more clearly show the long-term lifetime burden of morbidity caused by some of these pollutants. We now know that there are thousands more premature deaths caused by air pollution in Canada every year than has previously been appreciated. Dr. Khatter has mentioned some of those statistics.

We are learning that central Canada is not the only place that has a smog problem. The OMA has shown, through its model on Iilness costs of air pollution, which I believe some of you are familiar with, that it is plausible to think in terms of substantial costs to the health and pocketbooks of Canadians because of environmental risks across the entire country, not just in central Canada.

The CMA has developed many environmental policies pertinent to these discussions today; they are outlined in the text. I'm sorry you don't have that in front of you today, but they will be there; we can certainly take questions on that material, either today or at some later stage.

I do want to say, though, that doctors understand the concept that success from an intervention can be nuanced. In the case of disease, physicians know and accept that the benefit of treatment is not always a cure for a patient--sometimes we just reduce symptoms or slow the rate of decline--but in treating the physical environment that is so critical to human health, we suggest humbly that we cannot accept a palliative solution: we must aim collectively for cure.

We urge you to commit to measures of success in terms of real improvement, rather than merely accepting slight curtailments in what is sometimes thought of as inevitable increases of environmental contamination.

The issue of greenhouse gas reduction is one that illustrates this point. Just as slowing the progression of disease can never be considered a cure, referring to an inevitable increase in emissions and attempting only to limit the growth of those emissions cannot result in true success by any serious measure.

We have seen good-news press releases on environmental initiatives from various federal and provincial governments, but from our point of view, regrettably, the news isn't always worthy of praise.

There's no question, there have been some wonderful environmental successes that we should be proud of as Canadians. But the measure of overall success on all contaminants of concern, we can only say, has been incremental at best.

For example, when policy-makers speak about industrial emission reductions of any kind, we sometimes hear wordings such as “emissions intensity”; that is, the emissions per unit of production, rather than total overall emissions. To be health-relevant, the only meaningful way to report emissions reductions is to present them as net values, not the all-too-common gross valuations. The reason is that an emission reduction from a particular source is only health-relevant if we can guarantee that there is not a corresponding emission increase at another source nearby, because it is the absolute exposure an individual experiences that affects the risk of an adverse health effect in that individual.

This kind of issue becomes especially tricky with regional pollutants, things such as smog precursors, because you have to take the whole airshed into account. For this reason, cross-jurisdictional pollution control initiatives are critically important. In Canada, that means federal oversight.

To our understanding, that's what CEPA does. It gives the federal government jurisdictional authority and, dare I say, a moral obligation to act to protect the health of Canadians. As I've said, to the CMA and we believe to most Canadians, the real measure of success is going to be a reduction in the illnesses associated with pollution. That said, it's important not just how we measure this ultimate success but also how we measure our progress towards it.

Environmentally related illness is essentially the combined result of exposure and vulnerability. We are vulnerable because as human beings each of us has different physical strengths and weaknesses. Some vulnerabilities to environmental influences are genetic and some are the results of pre-existing disease. There is not much we can expect you policy-makers, or government in general, to do about this part of the equation.

Our exposure to contaminants, on the other hand, is related to the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat. This is where CEPA comes in, and this is where your role is critical and where measures of success will be most important.

Proxy measures for the health outcomes that matter must be relevant from a health perspective, as I've said. Health-based success can only be measured by quantifiable reductions in the exposure levels of contaminants in our air, water, and food.

In this context, Canada has historically relied on only guidelines for contaminants of concern: memoranda of understanding with polluters, voluntary goals and targets. Our American neighbours prefer the legally binding approach: standards, strict emissions monitoring, and pollution attainment designations.

While there may well be some benefit to the Canadian approach, we are clearly behind in some respects in this area. For example, in many parts of the United States, counties at the local level try desperately to avoid attaining a non-attainment designation. Such a designation would be based on, for example, ambient air pollution target levels that haven't been reached. If they are designated to be a non-attainment zone, these counties risk loss of federal infrastructure transfer payments. So the consequences are very real.

In Canada, we have Canada-wide smog standards, for example, for 2010. But of course these are non-binding, they have no penalties for non-attainment attached to them, they provide loopholes for any jurisdictions claiming cross-border pollution influences, and they allow provinces to opt out with only three months' notice.

We think we must be more forceful. And for the many more chemicals of concern besides those listed as CEPA-toxic, where such forceful action is certainly justified, we also realize that where the evidence isn't in, a precautionary approach is called for. We think there are many chemicals of concern where such a precautionary approach can be brought to bear and more forcefully implemented.

Although the presentation of environmental information such as the ambient pollution levels in the state of the environment report or health-based air-quality-index kinds of work is beneficial, provides information that is useful, and helps Canadians enable themselves to reduce their exposures, ultimately it isn't enough.

The CMA believes that true success would entail going beyond reporting the danger, to actually reducing it. We believe that's the purpose of CEPA, and that's why we look forward to working with you to improve CEPA, and to ensure that the measures of CEPA's success will be to the benefit of the health of our patients across Canada.

Thank you.

4:10 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Bob Mills

Thank you, Dr. Levy.

We'll go to our first round of questions. Members have ten minutes.

Mr. Godfrey, go ahead, please.

4:10 p.m.


John Godfrey Liberal Don Valley West, ON

What I found interesting about the documents put forward by Environment Canada this afternoon--both the “Bearing Point” document and the document on Canadian environmental sustainability indicators, which unfortunately we haven't had a chance to read in detail because we just received them during the meeting--is that they certainly seem to be about process, but I'm not sure how helpful they are in evaluating with any degree of accuracy the effectiveness of CEPA.

I would be interested in hearing from the non-government presenters, Dr. Levy, Dr. Khatter, and Rick Smith, as to whether they think these particular approaches are very helpful in allowing us to measure success.

4:10 p.m.

Executive Director, Environmental Defence, PollutionWatch

Rick Smith

I'll give a brief answer, to start.

Whether it's for kids in school or for governments, at a certain point you have to stop producing report cards and start improving the grade.

I do think it's fair to say that the federal government has been mired in process on the issue of pollution over the last few years. I would agree with Dr. Levy that a much more effective, common-sensical measure of success for CEPA would be to determine whether it is decreasing emissions into the air and water of key toxic chemicals. Is it ensuring that levels of toxic chemicals like brominated flame retardants, PFOS, and other things that other industrialized countries are well on their way to banning are decreasing in the bloodstreams of our children? We can measure these things now. Doing so is actually quite cost-effective. These are the kinds of measures that I would suggest are more effective. In fact, the United States, for instance, for many years now has been testing hundreds of people every year for the levels of toxic chemicals in their bloodstreams and in their urine, in order to track progress on pollution reduction.

4:10 p.m.


John Godfrey Liberal Don Valley West, ON

Let me come back to Mr. Glover.

Do you think the kinds of hard-edged criteria that have just been described by Rick Smith are fair? Is it reasonable that we should be tested on an international comparable basis for the more rapid elimination of these substances? If those are fair measures, how are we doing?

4:10 p.m.

Acting Director General, Systems and Priorities, Department of the Environment

John Moffet

Without a doubt, the absence in Canada of programs like systematic biomonitoring, which many other jurisdictions have, limits our ability to speak to meaningful outcomes.

I will fully admit that I spoke to process, the number of assessments we did, etc., and it is because of the lack of that kind of program that I am not able to systematically say we took lead out of gas, and we know what's happening with lead in the environment, but do we know what lead levels are in people across this country? It's not a requirement of CEPA, and therefore it is something that we do sporadically, in a number of spot studies on a priority basis for the most critical of issues. We are not in a position to have a systematic program that would really inform us of whether the levels are coming down such that we could be satisfied that we've done enough, would know that we need to do more, or that they could inform our priorities in the actions we've taken to date. These are, in short, reasonable measures.

4:15 p.m.


John Godfrey Liberal Don Valley West, ON

Your argument for the reason we're not doing biomonitoring is that it's not mandated by CEPA, and that it's presumably expensive? What are the reasons we're not doing it if it seems like a good idea?

4:15 p.m.

Director General, Safe Environments Programme, Department of Health

Paul Glover

If we speak specifically to what the act calls for, there is a requirement for a national pollutant release inventory that is funded and appropriately operated. There is no equivalent in the legislation for the health minister or the health department to carry out a similar program. We know it's released into the environment and there's a requirement. There is no similar requirement.Therefore, our ability to obtain the funds necessary to do that is somewhat limited. Recognizing the need for it, we do ad hoc studies. They're not systematic. They are not what we could call comparable to what the Americans or other jurisdictions do. We'll do a small sample in the north, a particular geography, etc.

4:15 p.m.


John Godfrey Liberal Don Valley West, ON

So if we were to make a recommendation as a committee for ways of strengthening CEPA, from a Health Canada perspective it would be a useful thing for us to propose biomonitoring, because it would give you the additional information that would allow us to answer the questions that have been put by the other witnesses.

4:15 p.m.

Director General, Safe Environments Programme, Department of Health

Paul Glover

We believe it would allow all of us to answer transparently, what are the levels, and are they going up or are they going down? Absolutely.

4:15 p.m.


John Godfrey Liberal Don Valley West, ON

Well, I think we're making progress here. Maybe I could ask the witnesses whether they have other useful suggestions that we can test, either for Environment Canada or Health Canada.

Note this for the final report, by the way.

4:15 p.m.

Chief Medical Officer and Director, Office of Public Health, Canadian Medical Association

Dr. Isra Levy

I wish I could be specific in that way, but I certainly agree with the conclusions. I would say yes, the process measures seem very heavy, but I would be a little concerned about giving you the impression that they're no good. A great deal of work over many years at Statistics Canada and Health Canada has gone into developing programs. As I think we just heard Mr. Glover say very tactfully, they're doing the best they can, sometimes in a funding drought because there are no obligations defined in the legislation.

So the work at the scientific level that does get done is often a good foundation and a good building block, but as I pointed out in my testimony, it is not focused in a meaningful way, in a way that relates to the interventions that CEPA brings to bear. Part of that is that some of the interventions haven't been brought to bear, but what we really need is tight regulation that's very clearly focused on specific things, with evaluation frameworks that are designed to measure the impact of the policy intervention.

I don't think we're there yet. The legislation has not been constructed or certainly has not been implemented in a way that allows us to measure progress. That is where I think, quite rightly, your thinking is going, and I very much support the conclusion you've just come to.

4:15 p.m.


John Godfrey Liberal Don Valley West, ON

Rick Smith, and Dr. Khatter.

4:15 p.m.

Executive Director, Environmental Defence, PollutionWatch

Rick Smith

I've been sort of a harbinger of doom and gloom in the last couple of weeks with this polluted-children report, so I just want to point out one good piece of news in the report, which bears directly on your question.

Two of the substances we tested for in children were PCBs and DDT. These are both substances that have been banned in Canada for quite a few years now--in the case of PCBs, I believe it was in 1977, so going on 30 years. What we found was a good news, bad news story.

The good news is that the levels of these things in kids were measurably lower than in adults. The bad news is that, 30 years after these substances were banned, they're still in kids. So this kind of measurement can be valuable to point out successes, and frankly, in this case it also points out the need for timely action, that even when decisions are made today, these substances are so persistent that it takes decades before they're flushed out of ecosystems and our bodies. But if you look closely at our report, you do see these differences in levels of substances, those banned and those still in use.

4:20 p.m.

Acting Director General, Systems and Priorities, Department of the Environment

John Moffet

I'd like to elaborate on Dr. Smith's latter point. I think the remaining presence of those substances indicates not just the need for rapid action, but I would urge the committee to think in an international context. The reason that stuff is still present in our kids' bodies is because other countries are still using it and still putting it in the environment, and it's a shared environment. So we need to look at not just action in CEPA, but action internationally.

If we want to address the problem of contaminated products, we need to make sure that the countries making the products apply the same standards that we do. That's not something we can legally impose; that's an international process.