moved that Bill C-307, An Act to prohibit the use of benzyl butyl phthalate (BBP), dibutyl phthalate (DBP) and di(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate (DEHP) in certain products and to amend the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, for all interested members and Canadians watching, the pronunciation of the bill is not a requirement to support it. It is sound government policy and I know there is support from various sides of the House for such sound legislation.
I would first like to thank my colleague from Winnipeg Centre for seconding this.
We have seen some small steps from the government to conduct itself in such a way, when it comes to the health and protection of Canadians, to operate under some fundamental principles. One of those principles is called the precautionary principle. It is a principle that has been outlined for a number of years and is used in jurisdictions across the world to prevent undue harm and unnecessary harm falling upon their citizens.
I will take the tobacco companies, for example, and then I will get to the specifics of the bill.
For many years, there were claims that there was no ill health effects due to tobacco. Companies would rely upon some sort of naive and false version of true and pure science needing to connect completely the smoking of tobacco to the many forms of cancer that were supposedly caused by that. For decades, these companies hid behind pseudo-science and the need to prove it beyond any reasonable doubt, meanwhile making record profits and costing taxpayers not only the physical cost of cancers and the pain to those people and their families, but hundreds of millions of dollars in health care costs.
It was only when public support grew to a level sufficient to push governments, both at the federal and provincial levels, to do something about this, that the companies finally had to come forward and admit there was enough health science to prove that smoking was harmful for our health.
No politician in our country will get up and suggest that we should reverse the direction that has been made when it comes to smoking, the prohibition of where people can smoke and the ability to sell to minors. Therefore, we have moved beyond that debate.
However, when it comes to chemicals and the toxic soup that Canadians are asked to swim through each and every day of their lives, the question for government and the responsible leaders of our country is, what are we doing to protect the health of Canadians? Are we doing all that we can?
Clearly, when we look at the group of chemicals to be banned under my bill, we have not done enough. This would ban three specific chemicals, and I am not as courageous as the Speaker in terms of attempting the pronunciation of all these. I will leave that to the organic chemists, but I do definitely take my hat off for the Speaker's efforts. There are three: BBP, DBP and DEHP.
These are specifically placed in products used by some of the most vulnerable people in our society and placed in such a way that allows toxins to then leach out of the products and into the humans who use them. In particular, many of these chemicals are placed in products which children frequently use. Knowing that these chemicals have been associated with a whole list of extremely serious health risks and knowing that they can be brought into a young person's body is the same as knowing the way those products are designed.
I will give an example. Many soothers are put on the market that contain two of these chemicals. Chewing the product will allow the chemical to be released from the product. There is this sad and twisted irony in the way these products have entered into our distribution chain and marketplace, completely unintentionally. They are causing extremely worrisome effects felt by the most vulnerable in our population, who are children.
The bill promotes the banning of these chemicals within 12 months, once the House has passed this bill. Many jurisdictions have already taken these first courageous steps, and I will speak to that.
Also a commercial element is involved for Canadian manufacturers looking to make some of these products. We are talking about children's toys, cosmetics and some medical devices as well. The European market and a number of American markets and others have banned these products over a series of time. If Canadian manufacturers hope to sell any of the listed products, they will be unable to export to any of those markets. Therefore, on the health of Canadian economy and on the health of individuals, this makes clear sense.
These chemicals allow plastics, in particular, to become softer. The original forms of plastic in commercial use were extremely hard and durable, but were not malleable at all.
It is an important consideration, whenever we look at banning a chemical through the manufacturing process, that reliable alternatives can be used and are safe. In this case there are a number of them. What is most attractive about phthalates, this family of chemicals, is that they have an extremely wide use. Manufacturers in other jurisdictions have been called upon to get a little more specific about the replacement chemical to be applied.
A number of these chemicals are also used in cosmetics. When we put these chemicals into things like children's toys, which children then chew on, or in cosmetics that are applied to the face, they leach out or off-gas. A number of studies have been done on carpets and paints. There is that new car smell with which people are familiar. Those are primarily the same group of chemicals and they are not necessary.
In not being necessary and not being implicit to the manufacture of any of those products, it causes one to wonder why government has not taken this step before. Given that we have a new government, we are willing to push this and see what kind of support we can get from around this House to doing something progressive.
The problem with the ability of these chemicals to enter into our into our bodies, is they do not have a chemical bond. That allows them to off-gas quite easily. The other secondary problem is that they accumulate in the fatty tissues of organisms. This is a process of bioaccumulation. Any trace amount that passes through one's system stays there because it gets trapped in the fatty tissues.
A recent study was done by Pollution Probe, I believe. It is one of the environmental groups that was studying the actual chemical makeup of Canadians and the levels of toxicity. It was by no means a conclusive study because the sample was too small. However, one of the things that was most interesting was that children in some cases had higher levels of these toxins than their parents did, even though they had obviously been on the Earth for a much shorter time. Part of the reason is the child might be consuming toxins at a much greater rate as a ratio to their body mass and also that the bioaccumulation, the ability of certain chemicals to stick in our bodies, then gets passed on to children.
A great list of unbelievable diseases and effects is associated with these chemicals. It strikes one as incredible that they even exist at all in commercial use, but let us blame the times and ignorance when they were first brought in. However, knowledge being power, clearly it is incumbent upon us to do something about it.
In particular, a number of studies have shown the abnormal reproductive development in small male children. I have an incredible list of the effects of these chemicals and I will table these documents. I hesitate doing that however because what these chemicals can cause is absolutely unbelievable. They primarily target the reproductive systems of small children and in particular small young males.
Again, when one steps back to the precautionary principle, if there is evidence linking this, in the absence of absolute 100% confirmed science, it is incumbent upon us to remove any chance at all of inflicting this upon any younger members of our society, who through no fault of their own, through their simple existence in their day to day lives, start to incur some of these health effects.
The list of general disorders and malformations is long and disturbing. Some of the less graphic in nature are strong links to allergies in children, premature deaths, testicular cancer. In animals that were tested with these chemicals, there was reduced fertility, spontaneous abortions, birth defects, damage to liver, kidneys and lungs. These things are absolutely incredible in terms of the number of disorders to which they are linked. There is no need or cause to be alarmist. It is simply to point out where the studies have led us
Just last month the United States national toxicology program published a draft brief on one of these chemicals, DEHP, examining its risks. The study found that they were probably affecting humans in their development and/or reproduction and that current exposures were high enough to cause concern.
When reading the list of possible ailments that would fall on those in our society, that in itself is enough to cause members to take a serious and hard look at what has been proposed in the bill, to determine that the measures are reasonable and responsible and that the bill should be supported. I will take a small quote from the study, which is extensive. I can table that document as well. It says:
Although there is no direct evidence that exposure of people to DEHP adversely affects reproduction or development, studies with laboratory rodents clearly show that exposure...can cause adverse effects...Based on recent data on the extent to which humans absorb, metabolize and excrete DEHP, the NTP believes it is reasonable and prudent to conclude that the results reported in laboratory animals indicate a potential for similar or other adverse effects in human populations.
This is not an alarmist group at a federal level in the United States.
When we look at other jurisdictions in the world and see what they have done with this family of chemicals, we find a long list of legislators are raising the alarms and seeking to pull these chemicals from our system.
The European Union has a more comprehensive ban than the one suggested in Bill C-307. I am always encouraged by that. If we can get the European nations to agree on anything at any given point in time, we have truly pulled off a miracle. In respect to something such as this, with the strong chemical manufacturing element of the European economy and this having gone through all of the hoops and levels required in that quasi-federal governance, it shows that its ban in specifically targeting those products aimed at children, especially, shows the strength and intention of the will of European parliamentarians. We would be well to heed their call.
Argentina, Fiji, Finland, Japan and Mexico have all banned this group of chemicals in children's toys. It is a wide and diverse group of countries. There are many more under consideration. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has recommended considering alternatives containing products when performing high risk procedures on male newborns, pregnant women with male fetuses and male preteens eight to twelve years old.
Even without the full “proven link” that has been sought by companies from tobacco on down, the U.S. FDA has said that on those vulnerable groups, particularly pregnant women who are due to bear male children and young male boys, we must find alternatives because other options are available.
For the life of me I cannot understand why members in the House would not support such an initiative, with options being available and given the list of dastardly diseases and effects related to these chemicals.
Health Canada has an even stronger policy when it comes to phthalates. Though it is still in draft, it recommends that DEHP not be used for certain procedures and that DEHP containing products be labelled.
I want to quickly go to alternatives. It is important for people to realize that if companies have sought alternative and responsible products, they be allowed to use them so they remain profitable. A number of European based companies and some American ones have been able to find alternative and responsible products to replace these. Some cosmetic companies have already started a phase in.
My last point, for members in this place and for those watching, is the principle of precaution, the principle of using sound judgment, even in the absence of full and complete knowledge on an issue in cases such as this, is paramount to the type of decisions we make. The onus we use must be reversed. It must not be left to consumers to somehow prove that the products they buy their children are safe. They simply do not have the time, wherewithal or capacity.
The onus must be put on those making the products and those attempting to introduce those products into the marketplace. It is simply responsible government to do this. It is responsible for all of us to strongly consider the bill. I look forward to the debate that ensues.