Categorization is a sorting process that determined which chemical substances have the characteristics that could be potentially harmful to the environment or human health.
Each chemical substance that meets the categorization criteria (i.e. in other words, they are Persistent, Bioaccumulative and Inherently Toxic, or they present the Greatest Potential for Exposure) requires that a science evaluation be completed.
Canada values a healthy environment, and this is reinforced by the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA 1999). The law says that chemical substances must be examined in a scientific and thorough way, and that risks must be managed so that human health and the environment are protected.
Existing substances are listed in an inventory known as the Domestic Substances List (DSL).
The DSL was originally published in 1994 and includes 23 000 substances that were used, between January 1, 1984, and December 31, 1986:
Chemical substances that are not listed on the DSL are considered to be new to Canada. These are subject to the New Substances Notification Regulations of CEPA 1999 and are called "new substances." These are evaluated to determine the level of risk before they are allowed to enter the Canadian marketplace.
Chemical substances are found everywhere - from common household products to complex industrial manufacturing. What is important to remember is that not all chemical substances pose a risk. The risk depends on the degree of exposure and amount of the chemical substance in use, and its potency in causing effects to our environment and human health.
CEPA 1999 required the Government of Canada to examine 23,000 "existing substances" on the Domestic Substances List by September 2006. The process involved reviewing models, laboratory research findings or studies to see if certain characteristics were present in a substance, namely:
These categories allow chemical substances to be examined for the degree of hazard they pose, and the potential for exposure. In other words, they give us an indication of how much human health or the environment could be affected. The criteria were mandated under CEPA 1999. In addition, they are commonly used by many international pollution prevention programs, including the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe's Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution Project and the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants.
Categorization allows the Government of Canada to sort through chemical substances that were introduced into Canada prior to the existence of Canada's modern environmental regime and determine which ones need further attention. It allows us to set priorities and target our resources where they are needed most.
We are the only country to have systematically reviewed all of its existing substances and determined whether further attention, if any, would be necessary to protect human health and the environment.
Because we now know more about chemical substances that have been in use for some time, we can take action on those that may pose the greatest potential for risk. The Government of Canada can now set priorities, take action and provide more information to Canadians.
Assessment of many substances of potential concern did not wait for the categorization process. A number of chemical substances on the Domestic Substances List (DSL) have already been addressed because there was enough information to take action. For instance, the Government of Canada recently took action on certain flame retardants and stain repellents because risk assessments identified a concern. So, even though these were on the DSL and were reviewed through the categorization exercise, we have moved quickly, and in the case of one fire retardant, were the first country to do so.
In addition, approximately 800 new chemical substances are examined each year before they are introduced into the Canadian marketplace.
Health Canada and Environment Canada have completed a systematic categorization of approximately 23,000 chemicals on the Domestic Substances List as required by the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA) to determine which substances pose a risk to human health and/or the environment. Out of the 23,000 substances screened, about 19,000 substances did not meet the criteria used for the categorization. The remaining 4,000 substances are those that will be the subject of further attention under the Chemicals Management Plan. The complete list of substances can be found on the CEPA Registry Web site.
Of the approximately 4,000 chemical substances requiring further attention, the Government of Canada will focus on 500 high priority substances. From a human health perspective, this includes chemical substances that met the criteria of inherently toxic to humans and greatest potential for human exposure. From an environment perspective, this includes chemical substances that met the criteria of persistence, bioaccumulation and inherently toxic to the environment.
A ban is the most serious action government can take. We have learned that it is not necessary to ban a chemical substance completely to protect human health and the environment. Controlling how it is used, how it is stored, and how it is disposed of can often be just as preventive as a complete ban. More information is needed on these chemical substances before decisions are made on the need for controls, including a complete ban. This way we do not ban a chemical substance that is not dangerous, or one that might have a use that actually protects us or our environment from harm.
It is important to remember that priorities have been set so we are dealing quickly with the most important chemical substances first - in fact we have already begun some work, and other steps will be taken immediately.
Canada's Chemicals Management Plan is science-based and designed to protect our health and the environment by:
Canada's Chemicals Management Plan includes:
Ultimately, the goal of the Government of Canada is to complete this work by 2020 because Canada committed to that deadline as set by the United Nations for the sound management of chemicals.
Information is available from a variety of Government of Canada sources on the Internet. The CEPA Environmental Registry, and Health Canada and Environment Canada Web sites each provide assessment information, general material about chemical substances, and details of risk management. Contact information is also available where you can request further information. Environment Canada also publishes quarterly CD-ROMs documenting its categorization work. These can be requested through the Environment Canada Web site.
The sheer size of the task in categorizing 23,000 chemical substances is one reason for the seven year time period. No other country has done such an exhaustive review, and for many chemical substances, Canada has contributed to the international knowledge base with new information. Models had to be developed and validated through scientific peer reviews to estimate the hazardous properties of a large number of the chemical substances when information was not available, even following an international search. The completion of categorization is a major achievement.
In addition, there have been a number of steps taken in the past 10 years. For instance, approximately 800 new chemical substances are examined each year before they are introduced into the Canadian marketplace. As well, the Government of Canada has taken steps to control many chemical substances for which risks to the environment and human health have been identified. For instance, such steps are taken when new information arises.
Yes. Government scientists are moving quickly on assessing the highest priorities as a result of the categorization exercise. The Government of Canada will move quickly to take action on existing chemical substances of concern as soon as the science shows an unacceptable risk.
We all have a role to play in protecting ourselves and our environment. Staying informed and acting responsibly reduces risk. Look for information on activities involving chemical substances on the Environment Canada and Health Canada Web sites as well as the Chemical Substances Web Portal. You will also find information on research findings, assessment decisions, and control measures that are in place for many chemical substances.
Industry provided a significant amount of information. For example, nine industry associations assisted the Government of Canada by providing information on over 6,000 chemical substances for categorization. Health and environmental organizations were also active participants in categorization. Information gaps and tools for efficient assessment were assisted with contributions from government research institutes and Canadian universities continue to fill information gaps and develop tools for efficient assessment of these chemicals.
This shows the cooperative partnerships that help Canada lead the way towards a sustainable chemical management system that benefits the environment, human health and the economy.
In the meantime, we continue to learn more each day. The categorization exercise under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 is providing a wealth of additional scientific benefits that will further future research and assessment around the world.
Categorization is an enormous undertaking - Canada is the first country in the world to complete this exercise. And yet, all nations face the same challenge. That is why the Government of Canada seeks input from other nations and is sharing its information so that many countries can benefit from our effort, and all countries can work together in lightening the load to protect our global environment and human health.
You can search a database of facilities reporting releases of certain chemical substances to the environment through the National Pollutant Release Inventory.