Ontario lead on toxic substances regulation laudable, but slow

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Bill 167 may be the leading edge of a new wave of substance regulation in Canada.  Following the lead provided by REACH in the European Community, and Proposition 65 in California, Ontario is preparing to put forth a framework to gather information on substances whose effects on human health and the environment are little known.    But the operative word here is “framework”, as there is no foreseeable pressure mechanisms on importers or users of listed substances to reduce them – only to report on how they plan to do so.

If enacted and if regulations are promulgated (two big “ifs”), we will still be at least five years behind the EU, in taking stock and eliminating toxic substances.  The steps outlined in Bill 167 pale in comparison to what has been taking place in Europe since 2007, however, where the onus is on industry, not government, to provide the science behind substance use.  Moreover, in Europe, chemical users are facing the entire range of chemicals currently in uses in the marketplace, numbering well over 100,000. More important, the NGO community in Europe has created a shadow list of substances, the Substitute It Now (SIN) list, which is growing faster that than the REACH chemical lists, as it is driven by an NGO stakeholder group.  So business has as much to worry about what is coming from the court of public opinion, as from the regulator.

The implications for business of this new wave of concern over chemicals in the marketplace is discussed at length in a new book, “Good to Green“, on business and the environment.