Canadian News Wire, December 11, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: Canada is reviewing its basic environment law, known as CEPA. Now more than 700 scientists and physicians have urged their government to insert more prevention and precaution into Canada's chemicals policies.]

Edmonton -- As the [Canadian] federal government launches its new strategy for dealing with toxic substances, and as Parliament enters the final phase of its review of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA), a letter signed by 721 Canadian scientists and doctors released today calls on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to amend CEPA to ensure it reduces Canadians' exposure to toxic substances.

The list includes 19 Canada Research Chairs, 25 Royal Society members, 4 Order of Canada recipients, and 2 Herzberg gold medalists. Dr. David Schindler, Killam Memorial Chair and Professor of Ecology at the University of Alberta, helped organize the initiative through a web site,, which is still collecting signatories.

"This letter reflects a remarkable breadth of scientific opinion. Canadian doctors and scientists are calling on the federal government to fix the problems in CEPA, and reduce toxic pollution in Canada," he said.

CEPA is Canada's overarching federal pollution law. The House of Commons Environment Committee began a mandatory review of the law in the spring, and is hearing from its last witness panel today. A parallel review is taking place in the Senate's Standing Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources. Witnesses appearing before the committees have highlighted many weaknesses in the law that have resulted in a lack of effective action to reduce pollution in Canada.

"Canada has a growing pollution problem that is a threat to both human health and the quality of our environment," the scientists' letter states. "CEPA requires significant improvements in order to deal with the emerging challenges of harmful substances in our environment."

While the federal government last Friday announced an action plan to move forward on key toxic substances, this plan does not address deficiencies in the overall regulatory system. The letter focuses on four areas that need improvement in CEPA:

1) Protecting vulnerable ecosystems, such as the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence basin;

2) Requiring deadlines for each stage from assessment to management of potentially harmful substances;

3) Employing the precautionary approach by shifting the onus on to industry to show that products are safe, rather than the current system, under which the government must generally prove that a substance is harmful before taking regulatory action; and

4) Providing the authority to regulate potentially harmful substances in consumer products.

"We hope this letter will encourage parliamentarians to make improvements to CEPA so that it better protects our health and our environment," said Dr. John Smol, Canada Research Chair in Environmental Change at Queen's University, editor of the Journal of Paleolimnology, and one of the co-signatories of the letter. "Future generations will thank us."

The scientists' letter, and the list of signatories, is available at

Dr. David Schindler, University of Alberta, Tel. (780) 492-1291 or (780) 325-3770; Dr. John Smol, Queen's University, Tel. (613) 533-6147

Copyright 2006 News Provided by Comtex.