Health Canada adds confusion to chemicals issue

Issued this week, a press release apparently issued by Health Canada via Marketwire under the headline Harmful Chemicals: How You Can Protect Yourself, seems to GallonDaily to simply add more confusion and little or no useful information to the public’s understanding of toxic substance issues. GallonDaily does wish to make it clear that this government press release could be a fake, though we consider this unlikely, because it seems to appear only on Marketwire and not on the Health Canada website.

The release states:

  • Chemicals are all around you – in your environment, food, clothes and even your body. While many of them help to improve your quality of life, some chemicals may cause harm to your health and the environment.

While that statement is true, the use of the term “chemicals” is very confusing. Everything, from oxygen to water to salt to dioxin, is a chemical. People are most often concerned about toxic chemicals, not about the rest. Such a basic understanding should not have escaped Health Canada’s wizards.

The press release continues:

  • The Government of Canada is taking action to help protect Canadians from harmful chemicals. The Chemicals Management Plan (CMP) is the primary tool used to assess and regulate chemicals.

It is true that a limited number of chemicals are being assessed under the Chemicals Management Plan but none (ZERO) have yet been regulated or restricted using this approach. In contrast, a number of chemicals have been regulated under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, which is not mentioned in this press release.

Finally, the release states:

  • While the CMP provides a number of measures to manage chemicals, there are actions you can take to protect your health and environment:
    Always follow label directions when using products, and store products according to package directions.
    Use proper disposal methods for products that may contain hazardous material.
    Make your home and car smoke-free.
    Use a wet cloth to remove dust.
    Open windows whenever possible to increase ventilation, especially when you are painting, varnishing or installing new carpets.
    Choose low emission paints, varnishes and glues.

Not bad advice but hardly sufficient to have much impact on the chemicals in household products that are frequently, correctly or incorrectly, described as toxic in the media and that are of concern to many consumers.

It seems that Canada’s Chemicals Management Plan is being supplanted by a strategy that makes consumers responsible for chemicals in household products. Given that human exposure to many of the chemicals which are of concern to consumers will not be reduced by any of the strategies listed in the press release, GallonDaily can only assume that Health Canada is replacing a strategy of reducing or eliminating household pollutants through regulation with a strategy of blaming the consumer for chemicals in products over which the consumer cannot possibly have any control or, in many cases, knowledge of their presence.

Government press releases should, in our opinion, be scientifically accurate and addressed to the problems that people are experiencing. GallonDaily suggests to Health Canada that if it has nothing useful to say about actions to eliminate toxic substances from household products then it is better to say nothing than to put out a release which further confuses an already confused situation.

The full release can be found at http://www.marketwatch.com/story/harmful-chemicals-how-you-can-protect-yourself-2012-02-28

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