Canada one step closer to ban “forever chemicals”

Canada one step closer to ban “forever chemicals”

Although the Canadian government prohibited the manufacture, use, sale and import of three subgroups of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS1) (PFOS, PFOA and long-chain PFCAs) in 2012, the latest scientific evidence and the regulatory measures from other jurisdictions made the Canadian authorities to look for further evidence about PFAs’ long lasting effects on human health and the environment.

The aim of this investigation is to “address the danger of broad class PFAS because there is scientific evidence indicating PFAS used to replace regulated PFOS, PFOA, and long-chain PFCAs may also be associated with environmental and/or human health effects”, as explained in the Canada Gazette in April 2021.

After a two years seek-for-information process, the Environment and Climate Change Canada Ministry published on May 20, 2023, a "Draft State of PFAS Report” and a "Risk Management Scope for PFAS".

The draft report provides a qualitative assessment of the fate, sources, occurrence, and potential impacts of PFAS on the environment and human health to inform decision-making on PFAS in Canada, whereas the risk management report informs about the potential new regulatory measures that are expected to come in the near future on the use (or banning) of PFAs in Canada.

A summary of both documents is provided in the following sections.

Draft Report main conclusion

PFAS are characterized by their perfluoroalkyl moiety, known for its exceptional stability in the environment. This stability has earned PFAS the moniker "forever chemicals".

Precisely, PFAS’ properties, such as oil and water repellency, chemical resistance, and low surface tension, have led to their extensive use in consumer products, industrial applications, firefighting foams, textiles, cosmetics, and food packaging materials. Consequently, to PFAS and releases into the environment happens via several ways in Canada that include food packaging, cosmetics, and waste disposal, among others. Once released, some PFAS can be transported through the atmosphere or global ocean currents, leading to their widespread distribution, even in remote regions.

Additionally, the ability of PFAS to bioaccumulate in biota increases their concentration within the food chain, raising concerns about their ecological impacts, such as adverse effects on growth, reproduction and accumulation in various organs. In humans, certain PFAS have been found in the blood system, with elevated levels observed in specific subpopulations such as Northern Indigenous communities and firefighters.

Due to the common use of PFAS, along with their ubiquitous and extreme persistence in the environment, humans and wildlife are continuously exposed to multiple PFAS. Therefore, the report concludes that PFAS meet the criteria of paragraph 64(c) of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA), and that it is mandatory to study new risk management measures to preserve human and environmental health.

Risk Management Scope main conclusion

Based on the findings presented in the Draft Report, the Canadian Government intention is to include PFAS in the List of Toxic Substances in Schedule 1 of CEPA. This inclusion would grant the Government the authority to implement various risk management measures under CEPA.

In the Proposed Risk Management report , the Canadian government explains the proposed risk management options under consideration for PFAS, which focus on minimizinge PFAS’ release to the environment and to reduce human exposure from certain sources of concern. It also includes:

  • Regulatory and/or non-regulatory controls to minimize environmental and human exposure to PFAS from firefighting foams;
  • Gathering information necessary to identify and prioritize options for minimizing environmental and human exposure to PFAS from other sources and products; and
  • Considering aligning with actions in other jurisdictions, where appropriate.

What can we expect now?

The Draft Report and Risk Management Scope are available for public input until July 19, 2023. Once the consultation period ends, the Government will consider the feedback provided and include it in the final report. This report will then determine whether PFAS should be categorized as a unified group and included in Schedule 1 of CEPA as a toxic substance.

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