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Toxic Substances Management Policy

Summary

The federal Toxic Substances Management Policy puts forward a preventive and precautionary approach to deal with substances that enter the environment and could harm the environment or human health. The policy is the result of consultations with stakeholders, held from September 1994 to April 1995, after the release of the federal government discussion paper Towards a Toxic Substances Management Policy for Canada and the companion document Criteria for the Selection of Substances for Virtual Elimination.

The policy provides decision makers with direction and sets out a science- based management framework to ensure that federal programs are consistent with its objectives. It also serves as the centrepiece of the federal government's position on the management of toxic substances in discussions with the provinces and territories and negotiations with the world community.

The key management objectives are:

  • virtual elimination from the environment of toxic substances that result predominantly from human activity and that are persistent and bioaccumulative (referred to in the policy as Track 1 substances); and
  • management of other toxic substances and substances of concern, throughout their entire life cycles, to prevent or minimize their release into the environment (referred to in the policy as Track 2 substances).

Management of both Track 1 and Track 2 substances will address, as appropriate, entry into the environment from both domestic and foreign sources, as well as remediation of areas already contaminated by a substance. Virtual elimination from the environment of Track 1 substances will be based on strategies to prevent the measurable release of the substances into the environment. In cases where no measurable release limits cannot be satisfied, generation or use of a substance will not be acceptable.

While socio-economic factors have no bearing in setting the ultimate objective for Track 1 substances (virtual elimination from the environment), such factors will be taken into account when determining interim targets, appropriate management strategies and time lines for implementation. Socio-economic factors will be considered when determining long-term environmental goals, targets, strategies and time lines for Track 2 substances.

Purpose

Many of the goods and services we rely on either use or produce substances that may be harmful to the environment or to human health. We have learned that if we do not manage the risks associated with these substances adequately, we could be faced with problems that are either extremely costly or impossible to correct. Scientific studies show this is particularly true of substances that result from human activity and that are toxic, persistent -- that take a long time to break down -- and bioaccumulative -- that collect in living organisms.

As science cannot always accurately predict the effects that a substance will have on the environment or on human health, managing toxic substances effectively requires taking a proactive, cost-effective approach to prevent pollution, rather than reacting after it has already occurred.

The federal government's Toxic Substances Management Policy puts forward a preventive and precautionary approach to deal with all substances that enter the environment and could harm the environment or human health. It provides decision makers with direction and sets out a framework to ensure that federal programs are consistent with the objectives of the policy.

The federal government already administers a number of programs to reduce or eliminate the risks associated with toxic substances. This policy underscores the need to apply pollution prevention principles to all those programs and to respond to the growing public demand for government action to protect the environment and human health while sustaining jobs and a healthy economy.

The Policy

This policy provides a framework for making science-based decisions on the effective management of toxic substances that are of concern because they are or may be used and released into the environment or because Canadians may be exposed to them through the environment.

Figure 1 shows how toxic substances and other substances of concern are managed under one of two tracks.

Selection of Management Objectives under the Toxic Substances Management Policy

A Candidate Substance is scientifically assessed based on consideration of: 1) CEPA-toxic or equivalent; 2) Predominantly Anthropogenic; 3) Bioaccumilative; and 4) Persistent. If all aspects are met, the substance is deemed for Virtual Elimination from the environment. If the aspects are not all met, Life-cycle management to prevent or minimize release into the environment is initialized.

The policy guides federal regulatory and non-regulatory programs by defining the ultimate management objective for a substance. It applies to areas within federal jurisdiction, taking into account the division of legislative powers between the federal, provincial and territorial governments.

A substance will be considered for systematic assessment if federal, provincial or international programs, or members of the Canadian public, have identified it as potentially harmful to the environment or human health.

A substance is considered toxic if, after rigorous scientific assessment and based on decisions taken under federal programs, it either conforms or is equivalent to "toxic" as defined in the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA).

Other substances that have not been determined to meet the definition of toxic under CEPA or its equivalent may be of concern because of their potential to harm the environment or human health, and may be managed in response to these concerns or to specific obligations. Such substances of concern will be identified through scientific assessments under a variety of existing programs, and could include substances that are subject to specific regulatory provisions (such as new substances controlled under the New Substances Notifications Regulations of CEPA); substances managed under federal-provincial agreements (such as nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds that are managed as smog precursors); and substances managed as a result of international commitments (such as sulphur oxides that contribute to acid precipitation).

The policy recognizes the need to apply a precautionary approach in identifying substances and implementing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.

Since toxic substances or substances of concern can originate either within Canada or abroad, domestic actions have to be complemented by international measures to protect the Canadian environment. As Canada takes a leadership role in seeking international action, this policy will serve as the centrepiece for the country's position on managing toxic substances in discussions and negotiations with the world community.