Global and Mail (Toronto, Canada), 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 emissions."]

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 use.

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.