The Government of Canada is committed to protecting Canadians and their environment from chemical substances that could be harmful.
With proper use, storage and disposal, most chemical substances pose minimal risk. However, under certain conditions, exposure can have harmful short- and/or long-term effects. Protection involves controlling the conditions that may cause harm, such as: use of a chemical substance, the way it is made, and/or the amount or concentration that is released to the environment.
Risk management is the process that sets out these control conditions.
Government risk managers determine how a chemical substance gets into the environment (this is done during the risk assessment process), then collect additional information on who uses the chemical substance and in what ways. The next steps in risk management are to identify, evaluate and implement tools to reduce, eliminate or prevent risks.
If the Government of Canada is not satisfied that risk has been reduced or prevented, it can prohibit the use of the chemical substance altogether.
The way the Government of Canada manages risks of chemical substances is similar to the way we deal with dangerous substances every day in our homes. Bathroom cleaners, paint thinners and gasoline in the garage are examples of potentially dangerous substances that we use all the time. As long as they are properly used, stored and disposed of, we can eliminate or minimize their harmful effects.
There are other chemical substances with which we would take special care. Certain types of acids used for heavy-duty cleaning are a good example. They would not be available in regular stores, and we might need special training, equipment, and even a permit to use them. In some cases, we might hire a professional to come and use them for us.
These are all examples of chemical substances that can pose a risk under some circumstances. When we know that they are dangerous, and we know what the dangers are, we can take steps to control the conditions that would make them harmful. We would, in other words, manage the risk. The more harmful they might be, the stronger the steps we have to take. And if we are not sure how a chemical substance can be used safely, or if we know it cannot be used safely, we might not use it at all.
On a much larger scale, the Government of Canada works to identify which of the thousands of chemical substances used in Canada might be harmful, and to control them through preventing, restricting or prohibiting their use or release.
CEPA 1999 defines "toxic" substances as those that enter or may enter the environment at levels or conditions that:
The federal government calls these substances "CEPA-toxic." Before the government can regulate these substances, they have to be added to the List of Toxic Substances.
The Government of Canada has a number of different tools for managing the risks of CEPA-toxic substances, called "risk management tools." Under CEPA 1999, the tools are chosen based on a number of environmental, economic and social considerations. Risk managers also consider existing federal laws and programs, as well as laws in provinces and territories, and sometimes those made in other countries.
Some examples of risk management tools:
These risk management tools may be used to control any aspect of the life cycle of a toxic substance - from the design and development stage to its manufacture, use, handling, storage, import, export, transport and ultimate disposal. For most chemical substances, CEPA 1999 also requires that risk management tools be developed and applied within strict timelines.
The Government of Canada also has management tools that target toxic or other chemical substances through voluntary agreements. An Environmental Performance Agreement (EPA) is a type of voluntary agreement that is developed between one or more orders of government and a company or an industry sector. It sets out the specific actions to manage risks from a chemical substance or group of chemical substances.
The Government of Canada can also require industry to notify the government prior to any new activity involving a particular chemical substance. This type of notice, called "significant new activity notice," is a 'flag' that is put on a chemical substance so that any major changes in the way it is used are reported. In this way, Government experts can evaluate if the new use poses a risk to human health or the environment and if so, the conditions under which the new use will be allowed, if at all.
The Government of Canada works with stakeholders such as the public, industry and health and environmental communities to ensure that decisions made on risk management are understood, and that the process used is transparent.