House of Commons Hansard #7 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was pfos.


Perfluorooctane Sulfonate Virtual Elimination ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the member for the bill. Members may be interested to know that this bill was first debated at second reading on June 16, 2006. It has been a long time. It is also interesting to note the position of some of the members who participated at the time and how this has evolved.

Before I get into that, I want to mention that we have some new rules that have changed with regard to what happens to private members' bills after prorogation. We may want to look at them again. It used to be that when we prorogued, all private members' bills died and then members would have the opportunity, if they wished, to move that their bills be reinstated in the same form. That allowed a member to say, “Mine is not going anywhere. I want to try something else, otherwise I am locked in”.

This way, they are all deemed to have been put at the same stage they were at when we prorogued, but they go back to the beginning of that stage. In this case, we are going to have three hours at report stage and third reading instead of the normal two.

It is kind of an anomaly, but this bill, when it was in the last session of Parliament, had received the unanimous support of this House at report stage. In fact, it is an indication, with that kind of support of the House, that we should move a motion to deem it passed at third reading and referred to the Senate. We need to deal with this because we are talking about a health bill. It may be under the environmental umbrella but it is a health bill.

If I could talk to the health minister about this, I know he would agree. I just wanted to quickly add to the record that this substance, called perfluorooctane sulfonate, referred to as PFOS, is currently not regulated in Canada and it is very prevalent in our society in repellants and all kinds of things. It is also detectable in certain products like rugs, carpets, fabric, upholstery, et cetera.

The whole idea is that this is a chemical that is biocumulative. It means that one can build up an amount of it in one's system. The research is done on animals. We have a zoologist in the chamber who spoke for the government earlier and explained that we have the science to detect this.

The interesting thing is that we have now come to the conclusion, as a consequence of the member's initiative, the good work by the committee, the debate and the support that has been generated, that we are here today with a bill that will pass this chamber, that will go to the Senate and, I hope, will get speedy passage because it is a health bill.

Here is the contribution I would like to make in terms of a new contribution to what has already been said. It has to do with the position that was taken back on June 16, 2006, by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment. I know the gentleman. He is a good member. He works hard and knows his stuff. However, as the parliamentary secretary, he needs to consult with Health Canada and Environment Canada and they pretty well let him know what the state of the union is.

If anyone has not read the speech, I happen to have it here. First, the member announced that his party would not support the bill. Interestingly enough, Health Canada has done the same assessments and the assessment concluded:

The revised assessment concludes that PFOS is a persistent biocumulative and inherently toxic substance in the environment. Furthermore, the revised assessment concludes that PFOS is entering the environment in concentrations that may have a harmful effect on the environment. These conclusions have not changed from the initial draft assessment. Canada's conclusions are also in agreement with the assessment decisions and actions of other countries.

The assessment goes on to read:

The revised assessment states that PFOS meets criteria established under section 64 of CEPA 99. In examining the risks posed by this substance to humans, it was concluded that concentrations of PFOS do not currently constitute a danger in Canada to human life or health. The final science risk assessment should be published shortly.

On June 16, 2006, a year and a half ago, the same department said that it did not pose a risk. However, after more work was done and a few people started talking about this stuff, the same data, the same information, and Health Canada now says that it is a problem. It now agrees. There has not been any new research. It is still the same data but Health Canada now has a different opinion. In the first place it was not a significant risk and now Health Canada says that it is a risk and that we must deal with it. The United States and a bunch of other countries have dealt with it.

I do not know whether other members share this, but how is it that Health Canada can have both positions on the same data and the same conclusion? There is an inconsistency here. It raises the question about whether or not there was a problem in making that initial assessment back when the parliamentary secretary spoke to the House and presented on the basis of the opinion of Health Canada in consultation with Environment Canada whether this was a problem.

I think we should ask Health Canada to please explain why its position was wrong when this bill first came forward. This is actually quite a success story for Canada and for the member who introduced this bill because it has created the necessity to have some informed debate, to go to committee and to hear from the experts. In fact, we have now identified other areas in which some similar problems need to be looked at.

What this whole process has really exposed, and it is the contribution I care to make to this debate, is that we may have a problem within Health Canada in terms of the manner, the procedures and the due diligence it does in making recommendations and giving advice to the government and to government members who will stand and have no personal knowledge but will rely, to their detriment, on information they were provided by departmental officials.

I believe it calls for an inquiry by the minister to look at the details and find out who wrote these and on what basis they made that recommendation and put the parliamentary secretary in a situation where he would be giving information that clearly sustained the argument that was made by the members in debate and then through a committee, which is that we have a problem here and the best thing to do is to pass the bill and put it on the list because it is a health risk to Canadians.

I am pleased to have consulted with other members because I now know that other substantial research is going on and that the science is such that we will be able to protect the health of Canadians even better because of the improvements in our research abilities, particularly with animals, to determine other health risks potentially harmful to Canadians.

I thank the member again for her excellent bill and congratulate her on a bill that will become law in Canada.

Perfluorooctane Sulfonate Virtual Elimination ActPrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.


Mike Allen Conservative Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to be able to rise in the House today to speak on Bill C-298, An Act to add perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and its salts to the Virtual Elimination List under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999.

As a member of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, I was pleased to be able to work with my colleagues to make this bill something that we can all support, and I am particularly pleased that we were able to strengthen it.

I appreciate the comments made by my colleagues on the environment committee about this bill. My assignment to the environment committee was one of the first bills I was able to get out of there, and that was a pleasure for me.

Bill C-298 seeks to add PFOS and its salts to the virtual elimination list under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. I am pleased to say that we are taking serious action on toxic substances.

As my colleague, the member for Wetaskiwin, mentioned earlier, our government introduced its chemicals management plan in December of last year as part of our commitment to taking strong action to protect Canadians and our environment from the possible harmful effects of chemical substances.

We invested $300 million in our chemicals management plan, a plan that will maintain Canada among the foremost leaders in chemicals management internationally. That plan was well received by both industry and environmental and health groups. We are now implementing it.

I will quote briefly from that plan. It states:

Chemical substances are everywhere around us—in the environment, our food, clothes, and even our bodies. Many of these chemical substances are used to improve the quality of our lives. Most of these chemical substances are not harmful to the environment or human health. However, some have the potential to cause harm, in certain doses, and should only be used when the risks are appropriately managed.

[Our] Chemicals Management Plan will improve the degree of protection against hazardous chemicals. It includes a number of new, proactive measures to make sure that chemical substances are managed properly.

We felt that PFOS was one of those substances we needed to take action on, and that is what we did. In fact, one of the first substances to receive our attention under that plan was PFOS.

My colleague has just explained why there is concern over this substance and what the government is doing about it domestically and with our international partners.

Bill C-298 has an important purpose, namely to recognize that PFOS is one of those substances that should be virtually eliminated, because it can persist for long periods of time in the environment, and it can accumulate in food chains. Substances with these characteristics are among the highest priority substances in our chemicals management plan.

As PFOS is a high concern substance for which the weight of evidence supports the conclusion that it is both persistent and bioaccumulative, the government supported the idea that it should be added to the list.

However, there were some issues with Bill C-298 as it was originally drafted. That is why the government proposed a series of important amendments.

The original bill would have not only required the addition of PFOS to the virtual elimination list under CEPA, but also have the costly development of an ineffective approach to pursuing the objective of virtual elimination. The government therefore could not support that original wording.

To understand this more fully, it is important to understand both the requirement that would have been put in place, and the principle route of entry of PFOS into the environment.

PFOS was used in formulations of stain and grease repellents that were applied to all kinds of fabrics such as carpets, jackets, sofa covers, just name it. As members heard from my colleague, it was also used to make firefighting foams more effective and to suppress fumes in certain industrial applications.

The wide variety of highly diffuse uses meant that PFOS was entering the environment from thousands of very small sources. However, since it is a commercial substance, intentionally added to things, we have the ability to stop it simply by putting in place a regulation that says we will not manufacture, import, sell or use the substance any more. That is what we have proposed to do under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, and we expect to finalize that regulation this year.

The bill would have required the government to develop and publish a level of quantification for PFOS. A level of quantification refers to the lowest amount of the substance that can be detected using sensitive but routine chemical analysis methods.

The bill would have required the development of a regulation concerning the quantity or concentration of the substance that may be released into the environment either alone or in combination with any other substance from any other source or type of source, a type of regulation sometimes referred to as a release limit regulation.

In the case of commercial substances like PFOS, the problem is it can be very difficult to define and regulate the sources of release. When considered in the context of our proposed regulation to prohibit the substance in Canada, it really adds no value. Indeed, by prohibiting the production, import or use of PFOS, we will be acting to eliminate potential sources of the release.

I would add that requirements to develop limits of quantification, or LOQs as they are called, or release limit regulations are not specific to this bill. CEPA contains similar requirements to publish LOQs and develop release limit regulations for substances that are put on the virtual elimination list.

However, the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, the same committee that considered this bill, has also produced its report on the five-year review of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.

In that report, the committee specifically identified these requirements as problematic. PFOS is a case in point. Moreover, the committee recommended that the act should recognize that prohibition regulations are an option toward achieving the objective of virtual elimination. We are proposing just that in the case of PFOS.

At committee, the government therefore proposed several important changes to the bill. We still wanted to put PFOS on the virtual elimination list, but we did not want to create obligations that would waste taxpayers' money or complicate the regulatory environment with ineffective regulations.

Therefore, we proposed amendments such that the bill will still require the government to put PFOS on the virtual elimination list, but without the requirement to publish a level of quantification, or develop a release limit regulation.

Another important amendment we made was to make sure that the bill addressed the same substances the government had identified as priorities through its scientific risk assessment. The risk assessment identified PFOS itself but also several related compounds, which are salts of PFOS as toxic, persistent and bioaccumulative. Bill C-298 therefore was amended to address PFOS and its salts.

Finally, CEPA put the onus of implementing virtual elimination on both the Minister of the Environment and the Minister of Health. We therefore proposed an amendment to this bill to make sure that both ministers were identified in this case, both for consistency and because in principle in the long run these persistent and bioaccumulative substances may be of concern to both people and the environment.

In conclusion, we are pleased that the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development was able to amend this bill, to make it something that we can support. We are committed to taking action against toxic substances, and this is further proof that this government is a government of action.

I also want to take this opportunity to thank the member for Beaches—East York for her efforts in working with the committee to implement amendments that allowed the committee to successfully get this bill through.

Perfluorooctane Sulfonate Virtual Elimination ActPrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.


Borys Wrzesnewskyj Liberal Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, not quite a year ago a number of our members of Parliament, in fact the Minister of the Environment, the Minister of Health and members from each of the parties were asked to take part in a study. They were tested to see what sort of dangerous chemicals there may be within their bodies.

A number of our colleagues from past sessions have been noted in the House when they have tragically succumbed to the terrible illness of cancer. Once these members had been tested, we waited to hear what sort of results would come forward. We found out that in fact there was a veritable cocktail of chemicals in the members' bodies.

That is why it is so encouraging and we should congratulate the member for Beaches—East York. She has zeroed in on one particular chemical. There were a number of chemicals found in the members' bodies, and from that we can extrapolate that these are chemicals most Canadians probably have within their bodies. However, she has zeroed in on one which is not that well known, PFOS.

The name itself does not appear to be all that insidious, but there was a time when DDT did not sound all that insidious either, or PCBs. Yet we do know that PFOS, in certain ways, has characteristics that are even more dangerous.

Let me read the full name, perfluorooctane sulfonate. Not only is it bioaccumulative, but it is also inherently toxic. We also know that it takes eight years to eliminate just half the amount of PFOS that we have in our bodies, if we were not to accumulate any more into our bodies during that eight year period. In fact, it has characteristics that are even more insidious and dangerous than DDT or PCBs.

As was mentioned by some of our other colleagues, we find PFOS everywhere, in upholstery, in carpets and in food packaging.

Let us just think. What sort of danger are we exposing Canadians, especially those most vulnerable? Children crawling on carpets, or adolescents, as they were unwrapping that hamburger at the local hamburger joint. They were potentially poisoning their systems because in the past PFOS was used in the wrappers that were used for hamburgers.

What are the consequences? Testing on animals has clearly demonstrated that PFOS causes breast cancer, liver cancer and thyroid cancer. In fact, it is quite dangerous and suppresses the immune system.

Perfluorooctane Sulfonate Virtual Elimination ActPrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. member, but the time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

It being 6:55 p.m., this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 6:55 p.m.)