Global and Mail (Toronto, Canada)  [Printer-friendly version]
June 20, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: The Canadian government has concluded that
non-stick chemicals are dangerous and should be banned. But
corporations like DuPont have the upper hand and will not allow
Canada to fully carry out the precautionary approach it would prefer
to take. "Ottawa plans to negotiate a deal with the industry to cut

By Martin Mittelstaedt

Ottawa is moving on two fronts to ban or place strict limits on a
family of widely used chemicals that poses a risk to human health and
the environment.

Federal regulators will block the import into Canada of newly
developed products such as grease and water repellents that break down
into long-chain perfluorinated carboxylic acids, a group of
contaminants linked to cancer and altered fetal development.

Regulators also want to reduce emissions from the approximately 60
formulations of non-stick and stain-resistant coatings that can
legally be imported because they were on the market before their
potential dangers were known. For those products, Ottawa plans to
negotiate a deal with the industry to cut emissions.

In doing so, it will be trying for a pact like one the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency negotiated earlier this year that
contained 95-per-cent reduction targets.

The actions were announced on Saturday through a notice by Environment
Minister Rona Ambrose and Health Minister Tony Clement in the Canada
Gazette. It is believed to be the first time any country in the world
has taken the dramatic step of trying to prevent further increases in
exposures to these perfluorinated carboxylic acids -- or PFCAs --
through a prohibition on new products.

PFCAs are a virtually indestructible pollutant originating from such
popular consumer items as non-stick pans and stain-resistant fast-food
packaging, clothing and upholstery found in virtually every home in
the country. The substances were recently profiled in a series in The
Globe and Mail, called Toxic Shock, on dangerous chemicals in everyday

The government said it acted to try to reduce exposures to the
chemicals to protect human health and the environment. "You can really
see these actions as preventing future problems... being ahead of
the curve in that sense," said John Arseneau, director-general in
charge of risk assessments at Environment Canada.

He said that Health Canada doesn't believe concentrations of the
contaminant in the population have reached high enough levels yet to
cause adverse human health impacts so he said he wasn't advising
consumers "to dump all their kitchenware and things like that."

The government also says it will maintain a prohibition first
announced two years ago on four new chemicals, known as
fluorotelomers, which companies applied to import into Canada, but
were temporarily blocked because of concerns they would break down
into PFCAs. Fluorotelomers are the basic chemicals used to make many
stain- and water-repellent goods.

That decision was criticized by DuPont, the company that makes some of
these chemicals.

"DuPont believes that the decision by Environment Canada to extend its
prohibition of four new fluorotelomer substances (of which DuPont
manufactures two) is not warranted based on the available science,"
the company said yesterday in a statement.

DuPont said its fluorotelomer-based products have been used safely for
more than 35 years, but that it "will continue working voluntarily
with Environment Canada, Health Canada and other interested groups to
further the understanding of PFCAs, and to develop and implement
effective science-based approaches to deal with PFCAs."

The EPA deal called for eight major chemical companies that make non-
stick and stain-resistant coatings, including DuPont, to cut releases
of certain PFCAs from manufacturing facilities and products by 95 per
cent by 2010, and eliminate releases by 2015.

Mr. Arseneau said Canada wants tough restrictions, consistent with
those of the EPA to prevent companies from selling products here that
don't meet U.S. standards.

The government's measures deal with so-called long-chain PFCAs, or
those that have nine or more carbon atoms arranged in a molecule.

But the most in-depth studies of health effects for this class of
chemical have been for the compound with eight carbon atoms, known as
perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, which is subject to a separate review
now under way by Health Canada and Environment Canada.

The two departments are also studying another related chemical known
as perfluorooctanyl sulfonate, or PFOS, that was once used to make the
Scotchgard line of stain-resistant coatings.

The lack of firm timelines for dealing with these two other chemicals
is a big oversight, according to some environmentalists.

"Given that our testing indicates PFOS and PFOA could be present in
100 per cent of Canadians, often at higher levels in children, there
is a clear need for the federal government to move aggressively to ban
all of these toxic stain repellents, not just the four that are
subject to this decision," said Rick Smith, executive director of
Environmental Defence, a Toronto-based group.