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Canada's approach on chemical substances

Protecting Human Health and the Environment

Canadians depend on chemical substances each and every day for hundreds of things, from medicines to computers to fabrics to fuels.

Some chemical substances are made deliberately and are used in manufacturing. Others are byproducts of chemical processes. Still others occur naturally in the environment.

Unfortunately, some chemical substances can negatively affect our health and environment if poorly managed.

How and where are chemical substances getting into our air, water and food, and at what levels are they found? How much exposure might we have to a given chemical substance? What happens after its use and disposal? What might short or long term exposure mean? What do advancements in research tell us we did not know before?

These and other questions guide Government of Canada scientists in researching and assessing chemical substances to determine if they pose a risk to our health and/or the environment.

The results can show that we need to control some chemical substances.

The Government of Canada controls chemical substances to protect human health and the environment using a variety of tools. These range from providing information about proper use and disposal, to regulations that restrict or even ban use.

Strong science, assessment and monitoring, combined with a variety of tools for protection: this is a risk-based approach to chemical substances in Canada.

Canada's system

In Canada, every order of government plays a part in protecting against risks from chemical substances: municipalities, the provinces and territories, and the federal government.

The Government of Canada makes regulations and develops guidelines and objectives that apply across the whole country. It also leads in conducting scientific research on human health and environmental issues, and makes agreements with other countries so that our laws provide the same or better level of protection.  Our aim is to safeguard human health and our environment in a global context while supporting economic growth - the essence of sustainable development. 

At the federal level, our health and environment is protected through numerous laws that govern chemical substances, including those in food, drugs, pesticides and products. There are also laws covering the release of pollution into air, water, and natural wildlife habitats.  In fact, the federal government is responsible for over 25 different laws covering environment and environmental health issues.

Major Federal Laws Covering Environment and Environmental Health Issues
Products Emissions & Effluents Habitat Protection, Land Use & Natural Resource Management
Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 Species at Risk Act
Pest Control Products Act Fisheries Act Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Inter-provincial Trade Act
Food and Drugs Act Canadian Environmental Assessment Act Fisheries Act
Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, 1992 Canada Water Act Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994
Feeds Act Indian Act Canadian Environmental Assessment Act
Seeds Act Northwest Territories Water Act Canada Wildlife Act
Fertilizer Act Territorial Lands Act Canada Water Act
Health of Animals Act Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act International River Improvements Act
Canada Consumer Product Safety Act Nunavut Waters & Nunavut Surface Rights Tribunal Act Indian Act
  Canada Shipping Act International Boundary Waters Treaty Act
  Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act Northwest Territories Water Act
    Oceans Act
    Territorial Lands Act
    Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act
    Nunavut Waters & Nunavut Surface Rights Tribunal Act

Improving Canada's approach

Created in the late 1980s and renewed to make it stronger in 1999, the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA 1999) is one of Canada's most important environmental laws. It covers a range of activities that can affect human health and the environment, and acts to address any pollution issues not covered by other federal laws.  Managing chemical substances is a big part of CEPA 1999.

CEPA 1999 requires every new chemical substance made in Canada or imported from other countries since 1994 be assessed against specific criteria.

However, chemical substances have been used in Canada for decades. Most were introduced in the decades before comprehensive environmental legislation was in place, as is the case in other countries around the world. These are known as "existing substances" - and had not been examined to determine if their use poses a risk to human health and/or the environment.

In 2006, Canada completed the major task of systematically sorting through the approximately 23,000 existing substances introduced into Canada before the creation of stronger environmental legislation. This exercise was called "categorization."

Leading the World

Canada, like the United States and European countries, has been evaluating and managing chemical substances for decades.  However, Canada is the first country in the world to categorize the thousands of chemical substances in use before comprehensive environmental protection laws were created. The results mean that we are able focus our efforts on those substances suspected to have the most dangerous properties, and set priorities for further research on the ones we need to know more about. 

Canada has a clear roadmap for assessing and managing chemical substances that will better protect our health and environment. The Government of Canada continues to work with partners in provinces and territories, industry, health and environmental communities and other countries to ensure that the best approaches are taken.

The result for Canadians will be a cleaner environment and fewer health risks.