Canada's system for addressing chemical substances  

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Helping to protect human health and the environment

Every day, we are exposed to chemicals and pollutants - in our air, food and water. There are chemical substances in the products we use at work, at home and at play: from medicines and computers, to textiles, and fuels, and many other items.

Some chemical substances are made deliberately and are used in manufacturing. Others are by-products of chemical processes. Still others occur naturally in the environment.

While chemicals play an essential role in our daily lives, some chemical substances can negatively affect our health and the environment if poorly managed.

How and where are chemical substances getting into our air, water and food, and at what levels are they found? How much exposure might we have to a given chemical substance? What happens after its use and disposal? What might short or long-term exposure mean? What do advancements in research tell us that we did not know before?

These and other questions guide Government of Canada scientists in researching and assessing chemical substances to determine if they pose a risk to our health and/or the environment.

The results of research and assessments can show that we need to risk manage some chemical substances.

The Government of Canada risk manages chemical substances to help protect human health and the environment using a variety of tools. These range from providing information about proper use and disposal, to regulations that restrict or even ban use.

Canada uses a risk-based approach for addressing chemical substances: strong science, assessment, monitoring, and performance measurement, in combination with a variety of tools for protection.

Our aim is to safeguard human health and our environment in a global context while supporting economic growth - the essence of sustainable development.

Federal laws, regulations and programs

The Government of Canada has many laws, regulations and programs dedicated to helping protect human health and the natural environment from chemical substance risks. Its primary legal tool for assessing and managing chemical substances in the environment is the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA 1999), jointly administered by Environment and Climate Change Canada and Health Canada.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999

Created in the late 1980s and renewed to make it stronger in 1999, CEPA 1999 is one of Canada's most important environmental laws. It covers a range of activities that can affect human health and the environment, and acts to address any pollution issues not covered by other federal laws. Assessing and managing chemical substances is a big part of CEPA 1999.

CEPA 1999 requires that every new chemical substance made in Canada or imported from other countries since 1994 be assessed against specific criteria.

However, chemical substances have been used in Canada for decades. Most were introduced in the decades before comprehensive environmental legislation was in place, as is the case in other countries around the world. These are known as existing substances. In 2006, Canada completed the major task of systematically sorting through the approximately 23,000 existing substances introduced into Canada before the creation of stronger environmental legislation through an exercise called categorization. As most of these substances had not been examined by environmental and health scientists in government, categorization was the first step to finding out which need further attention.

There are several areas of focus involved in administering CEPA 1999, including:

Major federal laws covering human health and environmental issues

Major federal laws covering human health and environmental issues There are also laws governing the risks posed by chemical substances used in food, drugs, pesticides and other products available in Canada. In addition, there are laws covering the risks posed by the release of pollution into air, water, and natural wildlife habitats. In fact, the federal government is responsible for over 25 different laws covering human health and environmental issues.

Products available in Canada

  • Canada Consumer Product Safety Act
  • Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999
  • Feeds Act
  • Fertilizer Act
  • Food and Drugs Act
  • Health of Animals Act
  • Pest Control Products Act
  • Seeds Act
  • Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act

Emissions and effluents

  • Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act
  • Canada Shipping Act
  • Canada Water Act
  • Canadian Environmental Assessment Act
  • Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999
  • Fisheries Act
  • Indian Act
  • Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act
  • Northwest Territories Water Act
  • Nunavut Waters and Nunavut Surface Rights Tribunal Act
  • Territorial Lands Act

Habitat protection, land use and natural resource management

  • Canada Water Act
  • Canada Wildlife Act
  • Canadian Environmental Assessment Act
  • Fisheries Act
  • Indian Act
  • International Boundary Waters Treaty Act
  • International River Improvements Act
  • Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act
  • Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994
  • Northwest Territories Water Act
  • Nunavut Waters & Nunavut Surface Rights Tribunal Act
  • Oceans Act
  • Species at Risk Act
  • Territorial Lands Act
  • Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Inter-provincial Trade Act

Other programs that address chemical substances

In addition to CEPA 1999, there are many other federal programs and agencies involved in addressing chemical substances, including:

  • Consumer product safety
    The Government of Canada helps protect Canadians by preventing, detecting and responding to health hazards and safety risks posed by consumer products and cosmetics that we use everyday.

  • Drugs and health products
    The Government of Canada plays a lead role to help ensure that Canadians have access to safe and effective drugs and health products.

  • Food and nutrition
    Safe food and good nutrition are important to Canadians. Maintaining the safety of Canada's food supply is a shared responsibility among all levels of government, industry and consumers.

  • Pesticides and pest management
    Health Canada's Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) is the federal authority responsible for the regulation of pest control products in Canada.

  • Workplace Hazardous Products
    The Government of Canada helps ensure workers are protected from health and safety risks posed by the use, storage or handling of hazardous products in workplaces by establishing hazard classification and communication requirements for these products.

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