Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to enter the debate and to speak to Bill C-298, which is a very important act. Bill C-298 is an enactment that would require the Minister of the Environment and the Minister of Health to make, within nine months after the coming into force, a regulation to add perflurooctane sulfonate, or as the member before mentioned, PFOS, as it is sometimes called to save the tongue a little twisting, and its salts to the virtual elimination list compiled under section 65(2) of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999. The act may also be cited as the perflurooctane sulfonate virtual elimination act.
I am pleased to say that the government supports the bill.
The government is committed to taking strong action to protect Canadians and our environment from the possible harmful effects of chemical substances. That is why we announced, in December of last year, a new $300 million investment in the Government of Canada's chemicals management plan, a plan that will maintain Canada among the foremost leaders in chemical management internationally, and a plan that was well received both by industry and by the environmental and health groups. We are now implementing it in earnest.
One of the first substances to receive our attention, under the chemical management plan, was perflurooctane sulfonate, or PFOS. There is concern over this substance and what the government is doing about it domestically and with international partners.
When Bill C-298 was introduced last year, the government had not yet announced the chemical management plan or its proposed actions on PFOS. I therefore congratulate the member for Beaches—East York for bringing this issue forward. The bill has an important purpose, 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 chemical management plan.
As PFOS is a high concern substance for which the weight of evidence supports that it is both persistent and bioaccumulative, the government supports the idea that it should be added to the list. However, as Bill C-298 was originally drafted, it would have not only required the addition of PFOS to the virtual elimination list under CEPA, but it would also have required the costly development of an ineffective approach to pursuing the objective of virtual elimination. The government therefore did not support the original wording of the bill.
To understand this more fully, it is important to understand both the requirement that would have been put into place and the principal 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, carpets, jackets, sofa covers, name it. It was also used to make firefighting foams more effective and to suppress fumes in certain industrial applications. This wide variety of 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 CEPA. We are expecting 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 also 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 source or type of source, a type of regulation sometimes referred to as a release limit regulation.
The problem is in the case of a commercial substance like PFOS, it can be very difficult to define and regulate the sources of release. And, when considered in the context of our proposed regulation to prohibit the substance in Canada, it adds no value. Indeed, by prohibiting the production, import or use of PFOS, we will be acting to eliminate potential sources of its release.
I will also add that requirements to develop limits of quantification or release limit regulations are not specific to this bill. The Canadian Environmental Protection Act contains similar requirements to publish levels of quantification and develop release limit regulations for substances that are put on the virtual elimination list.
The Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, the same committee that considered this bill, has also just produced its report on the five year review of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. In that report, the committee specifically identified three requirements as problematic. PFOS is a case in point. Moreover, the committee recommended that the act should recognize that prohibition regulations were an option toward achieving the objective of virtual elimination. We are proposing just that in the case of PFOS.
At committee, the committee 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 to waste taxpayer money or complicate the regulatory environment with ineffective regulation. Working carefully with the member for Beaches—East York, we developed amendments such that the bill would still require the government to put PFOS on the virtual elimination list, but without the requirement to publish the level of quantification or develop a release limit regulation.
Another important amendment we made was to ensure that the bill would address 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 biocumulative. Bill C-298 therefore was amended to address PFOS and its salts.
Finally, CEPA puts the onus of implementing the virtual elimination on both the Minister of the Environment and the Minister of Health. We therefore proposed an amendment to ensure that both ministers were identified in this case, both for consistency and because in the long run these persistent and biocumulative substances might be of concern to both people and to the environment.
I am pleased to say that the government supports the bill and will be very pleased to see this compound added to the virtual elimination list. It will improve the environment for Canadians and will take this substance virtually out of circulation, out of the bodies of Canadians and out of the environment, which will be good for all of us.