What we heard: Informed substitution within Canada’s chemicals program

Overview of consultation

Health Canada and Environment and Climate Change Canada launched an online consultation on January 16, 2019, which closed on March 18, 2019, to seek input from Canadians in response to a study that was posted entitled "Options for advancing informed substitution and alternatives assessment within Canada’s chemicals program”.

Feedback received through this consultation process will help define the scope for subsequent consultations on how the Government of Canada could modernize chemicals management in Canada and to inform the potential role of Government in informed substitution and alternative assessments.

Who responded

The consultation generated 16 sets of comments from Canadians. The comments represented the views of industry members including Canadian companies, individual business owners and business associations, a municipal government member, academia, non-government organizations (NGOs), a health professional and a member of the general public. Pie chart 1 shows the breakdown of responses by stakeholder groups.

Pie chart 1: Respondents by stakeholder groupsFigure 1 Footnote 1

figure 1

Figure 1 Footnote 1

The numbers in the chart reflect unique submissions from each stakeholder group; some submissions were submitted on behalf of organizations.

Figure 1 return to footnote 1 referrer

Text description

Sixteen respondents provided comments to the survey; 9 were from industry members including Canadian companies, individual business owners and business associations. One municipal government member, two universities (academia) from neighbouring provinces, two NGOs, a health professional and another member of the general public responded as well.

Given few comments were received, stakeholders will be referred to as industry or non-industry (municipal governments, NGOs, academia and general public) respondents.

What we heard about informed substitution

The majority of respondents were supportive of the vision outlined in the aforementioned study, and most were in agreement that chemical assessments should be based on sound science and include a life-cycle approach.

Vision: “Establishing a solutions-oriented, interdepartmental umbrella policy/program that links traditional regulatory approaches with non-regulatory incentives and supportive actions that drive innovation in, and adoption of, safer chemistry...”

Comments follow the 3 key questions used to seek input from Canadians.

1. Who are the partners that have a role to play in considering informed substitution, and what role should each of them play?

Most respondents agreed Government should consult broadly and facilitate information sharing and communication to stakeholders. They suggested stakeholders include industry, NGOs, academia, federal, provincial and territorial governments, municipalities, and workers, while one suggested the addition of health professionals, vulnerable populations, environmental and health organizations, patient groups, consumers, agricultural stakeholders, organizations addressing food safety, security and quality, groups focused on alternatives such as organic agriculture practitioners and advocates, and non-profit organizations.

Some respondents noted municipalities and local governments possess data and expertise in the areas of the environment, public health, emergency management and economic development and can help incentivize and/or impose the adoption of substitution processes and alternative chemicals via permit renewals. For example, some municipalities act as regulators of main industrial sources of pollution and can impose the adoption of processes and chemicals when it issues or renews permits.

2. Are there considerations or information missing from the study?

Feedback received from most respondents indicate the use and development of new technologies, sustainable solutions and tools should align with verified programs with appropriate oversight; for example, eco-labels or lists such as GreenScreen or Substitute It Now (SIN).

Non-industry comments

Non-industry respondents were supportive of the study, advocated for even greater transparency and requested the government provide links to published fact sheets on substitution by use. They suggested that substitution start with the question 'is this chemical needed and is it the best option to achieve an important purpose?’, as this could eliminate chemicals, as a substitute or otherwise, that contribute nothing to product function (such as fragrances). Some advocated for the concept of an independent, academically affiliated institute for informed substitution, felt informed substitution should be hazard-based, not risk-based (hazard and exposure are considered to determine risk), and indicated that informed substitution and alternative assessment frameworks should integrate occupational health and safety of all workers.

Government’s role, as suggested by non-industry respondents, would be to provide (regulatory) oversight to certification claims to ensure impartiality in the evaluation of products and provide assurance that industry meet minimum criteria.

Lastly, non-industry respondents wish to have a level playing field among stakeholders; noting those with commercial interest have financial resources and industry-specific technical expertise, and an advantage answering these questions and/or supporting informed substitution.

Industry comments

To support informed substitution, industry respondents, though mostly supportive of the study, felt the study diverges from, but should embody the 3 pillars of both the Chemicals Management Plan and sustainability. They provided the following pillars:

Chemicals Management Plan

Sustainability

Further, some industry respondents were concerned that the consultation document implies that all chemicals can be transitioned to safer alternatives and/or that substitution is the only risk management option; however, they felt certain groups of substances need special considerations.

Industry strongly stated that informed substitution must proceed based on substance-specific considerations; informed substitution based on cumulative risk assessment using groupings of substances should be used only where necessary and should be approached carefully. Other strong views expressed by industry are that informed substitution should be risk-based (hazard and exposure are considered to determine risk), not hazard-based, and Government should only consider problem formulation (that scopes potential alternatives, informed substitution and alternatives assessment) at the risk management stage of assessed substances, not earlier.

In addition, industry felt Government needs a better understanding of industry’s research and development, informed substitution and alternative assessment work, and innovations that they state are constantly advanced by industry. They noted that in virtually every case where substitution is a consideration, industry includes health, environmental, commercial, technological, and economic cost/benefit trade-offs.

Industry respondents indicated Government should work closely or align with other government organizations internationally and domestically, to ensure a globally harmonized approach.

Certain industry respondents asked how can practical adaptations for informed substitution/alternative assessment be balanced with Canada's already rigorous processes?

Some industry respondents felt Government should create a ‘Centre of Excellence’ for safer chemistry or a related umbrella policy/program that could facilitate informed substitution in modernizing the Canadian Chemicals Management Plan. They indicated this Centre of Excellence could:

Further, the development of a Government framework on informed substitution and alternative assessment, as suggested by some industry respondents, should:

Lastly, an industry respondent suggested the use of voluntary programs launched by industry associations to inform consumers and retailers about the ingredients in products through different means: on the product label; on the manufacturers’, distributors’, or importers’ website; through a toll-free telephone number; or through some other non-electronic means.

3. Are there potential costs, benefits or impacts of informed substitution on the health of Canadians, the environment, companies or others?

Alternatives assessments and chemical substitutions belong to industry with support by government policies and initiatives is a sentiment shared by most respondents. In addition, most agreed those determining a substitute/alternate for a chemical need information on its supply chain to avoid substitution of a chemical to one of equal or increased harm.

Non-industry comments

Non-industry respondents suggested adding that the health of Canadians is the most important thing to consider when looking for a substitute of a chemical. If industry could provide data that indicates a substitute product/chemical does not compromise the health of Canadians, it would ensure the elimination of unhealthy products/chemicals from entering the market. This in turn, could save on health care costs and improve environment and public health, which leads to improved productivity and quality of life. In addition, one needs to consider the costs associated with impacts of informed substitution at every phase of a product life cycle. Non-industry respondents also noted that funding/grants are critical for applied research (seeks to answer a question) on substitution, distinct from the basic research (fills knowledge gaps).

Industry comments

If a government policy requires informed substitution of chemicals of concern, industry concerns include the protection of confidential business information and having adequate time to comply with policy/legislative changes pertaining to informed substitution. Industry expressed that if a government policy requires informed substitution of chemicals of concern, this may lead to removing products from the market in Canada; specifically, if individual ingredients are targeted in Canada, it is likely that many importers will forgo the market as opposed to reformulate to meet this requirement. Industry preferred risk-based programs (that is, taking into account the likelihood that the use of a chemical will result in harm) as opposed to hazard-based programs such as the United States Environmental Protection Agency Safer Choice.

Other comments

Non-industry comments

Some non-industry respondents felt Government should track and report trends of adverse health outcomes that are linked to environmental exposures (for example, levels of chemicals in the environment, products, foods, water, biological samples) for chemicals management purposes.

Industry comments

Industry strongly opposed the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development recommended suite of actions that would require a simultaneous assessment of possible alternatives to a substance during a risk assessment. They indicated that implementing this recommendation would presume the substance is toxic before finalizing its assessment.

One industry respondent felt Government should encourage the growth of hemp and use hemp more as a green alternative material.

Lastly, industry respondents submitted conflicting views related to whether unapproved uses (which are uses that differ from those approved on the label of a product) should be included during a chemical evaluation.

Conclusion

The Government of Canada would like to thank everyone who provided comments on the study: "Options for advancing informed substitution and alternatives assessment within Canada’s chemicals program”. The comments received provide diverse perspectives and valuable advice, insight and guidance. Government will consider all comments that will help inform activities related to informed substitution and alternative assessments as part of the Canadian Chemicals Management Plan’s modernization. The Government will continue to consult and inform stakeholders of progress made in determining the Government’s role in informed substitution and alternative assessments within Canada’s chemicals program.

Contact us

Substances Management Information Line
Chemicals Management Plan
Gatineau, QC K1A 0H3
Telephone: 1-800-567-1999 (in Canada) or 819-938-3232
Fax: 819-938-5212
E-mail: eccc.substances.eccc@canada.ca

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