Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-307 by the member for Skeena--Bulkley Valley, which is an act to prohibit the use of three types of phthalates, BBP, DBP and DEHP. I thank him for his work on this.
The Government of Canada is very concerned about the potential risks to human health, especially to children, from chemical substances used in manufacturing and which may be found in products that we use every day. For that reason we committed in the Speech from the Throne to achieve tangible improvements in our environment, including reductions in pollution. In the speech the Governor General of Canada stated:
Recognizing the important role of parliamentarians, members of Parliament will be asked to conduct comprehensive reviews of key federal legislation, including the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.
As the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment, I am on the committee that is reviewing the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, known as CEPA 1999. We are committed to working within that process. We are also committed to ensuring that CEPA 1999 is improved in order to increase its effectiveness in reducing the use and release of harmful substances.
This government has concerns about Bill C-307 because the departments of environment and health have already been actively engaged in scientifically assessing the environmental and human health risks of specific substances named in Bill C-307. The government has also taken action to address the risks that were identified through the scientific assessments.
Phthalates used in plastics also have important economic and operational benefits in Canada. I would first like to briefly explain the uses of phthalates in everyday life.
BBP is a plasticizer used in a variety of plastic products, including vinyl products such as floor tiles. It is also used to manufacture traffic cones, food conveyor belts, artificial leathers and plastic foams. The plasticizer makes the products flexible and easy to fabricate.
DBP is used in cosmetics and is a particularly common nail polish ingredient which makes polish resistant to chipping.
DEHP is a plasticizer used in medical devices such as intravenous tubing and medical bags which renders medical tubing resistant and resilient to kinks. Kinks can dangerously restrict the flow of medicine and life-saving fluids to patients, putting the safety of Canadians at risk. DEHP is also used in fragrances, hydraulic fluid and as a solvent in light sticks.
Health Canada and Environment Canada carried out assessments of these three substances between 1994 and 2000.
The assessments carried out under the authority of CEPA were peer reviewed to ensure accuracy and adequacy of coverage and were published for public comment prior to being finalized. The assessments concluded that all three substances are not harmful to the environment.
The human health assessment concluded that two of the three substances, namely BBP and DBP, did not pose any undue health risks. Therefore, Bill C-307 prohibitions on BBP and DBP are inconsistent with the peer reviewed scientific assessment conclusions.
However, the human health assessment of the third substance, DEHP, concluded that there are health risks associated with the exposure of this substance. In response to the assessment conclusion of DEHP, Health Canada requested the Canadian industry to discontinue the use of all phthalates in the manufacture of soft vinyl teethers and baby products that could be put in the mouth.
Today DEHP is already no longer used in the Canadian manufacture of soft vinyl teethers or baby products that could be put in the mouth and DEHP is not found in any cosmetics notified with Health Canada.
DEHP continues to be used in scientific medical devices. Based on extensive reviews conducted by Health Canada, it has been concluded that the use of DEHP has important benefits that are lacking in alternative substances.
One particular use of DEHP that potentially causes exposure to humans is its use in scientific medical devices. Based on extensive reviews conducted by Health Canada, it has been concluded that the use of DEHP has important benefits that are lacking with the alternatives. The use of DEHP in medical devices was reviewed by the Medical Devices Bureau of Health Canada. In addition, clinical practice guidelines have been developed with input from stakeholders and posted for comments on the Health Canada website.
Bill C-307 would have economic and practical repercussions in Canada since some alternatives to DEHP do not offer the same benefits that this substance possesses. Others are much more expensive, while others have inadequate safety data. Therefore, in these limited cases, the benefits of continued use outweigh the risks. The member's bill acknowledges these benefits by stating that the prohibition on use for medical devices should exclude blood bags, but these exclusions would have to be extended to other medical uses.
It is worth noting that on November 16, 1998, Health Canada issued as a precautionary measure a public health advisory informing parents and health care providers of very young children about the potential health risks posed by soft vinyl children's products containing another plasticizer, di-isononyl phthalate, DINP. This substance was not part of the assessment under CEPA but was found to be a replacement for DEHP.
At that time, parents and caregivers of children under the age of one were advised to dispose of soft vinyl teethers and rattles. In the interest of the health and safety of children, Health Canada also requested the industry to immediately stop production and sale of those products. As a result of this action, soft vinyl teethers and rattles containing DINP have been voluntarily withdrawn from the Canadian market.
Beyond these specific substances, the Government of Canada is very concerned about the risks to human health and especially to children from these chemicals. To prevent exposure to new harmful chemicals, Health Canada and Environment Canada assess potential risks of chemicals before they come into use in the Canadian marketplace and take steps to manage the risks or to prohibit the use of new chemicals where the risks cannot be adequately managed. This program has been in place for nearly 15 years and over 800 chemicals are assessed annually.
Through this program we collaborate with other countries to harmonize our assessments of new chemicals before they are introduced into commerce. This prevents the creation of new problems. This is an example of pollution prevention in action, which is a cornerstone of CEPA.
This government remains concerned about the human health impacts of existing sources of pollution and in particular, air pollution. This government is in the midst of comprehensive and integrated action to protect the health of Canadians and the environment. Canadians will see in the coming months, as we develop our made in Canada approach for reducing air pollution and greenhouse gases, additional initiatives to protect our health and our environment.
We also recognize that instead of focusing our attention on one or a few substances at a time, this government needs to take a more comprehensive and integrated approach that will put Canada at the forefront of substance management.
The House of Commons assigned the review of CEPA 1999 to the Standing committee on Environment and Sustainable Development on April 26 of this year. The committee began hearings on May 10. The environment committee's review of CEPA will provide the Government of Canada with an opportunity to review the contribution of CEPA to the goals of pollution prevention, sustainable development and federal-provincial-territorial cooperation.
As I have said, this government is committed to ensuring that the health of our citizens and our environment is safeguarded. While we appreciate the intent of the member for Skeena--Bulkley Valley to eliminate phthalates, the government has already taken steps through the appropriate procedures and authorities in regard to BBP, DBP and DEHP.
Bill C-307 attempts to circumvent the comprehensive scientific assessment of phthalates and instead make an assessment based on politics. This legislation would unfortunately confuse and create redundancy within the process. I would encourage the member to respect the scientific assessment process. He indicated that he disagrees with the scientific assessment of phthalates. He called it pseudo-science.
I encourage him to instead use the appropriate process, which is the CEPA review. I would recommend that he bring his concerns and recommendations regarding phthalates to the department, which is carrying out the assessment. I look forward to discussing it in that context.