Canada Takes Action to Ban Asbestos

After many years of delay, the Canadian government recently announced that it will enact a comprehensive ban on asbestos and asbestos-containing products by 2018. The country’s long history of asbestos mining had ended when its two last asbestos mines closed in 2011. However, asbestos itself and its use in products was not banned, despite years of pressure from health advocates for the group of carcinogenic minerals to be outlawed.

Citing the need to protect the health and safety of Canadians, the government said it is developing new regulations that will ban the manufacture, use, import and export of asbestos under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CETA). Also planned are new federal workplace health and safety rules to drastically limit the risk of exposure to asbestos. In addition, an existing list of asbestos-containing buildings that are federally owned or leased will be expanded, and national, provincial and territorial building codes will be updated to prohibit the use of asbestos in new construction and renovation projects.

In April, the federal government took another step when it updated its international position on the listing of asbestos as a hazardous material and supported the listing of chrysotile asbestos to the Rotterdam Convention.

“By supporting the listing of chrysotile asbestos to the Rotterdam Convention, Canada is taking a concrete step to promote responsible management of this harmful substance globally,” said Catherine McKenna, minister of environment and climate change. “In Canada, we will also put in place regulatory measures to protect the health and safety of Canadians as we move forward toward a ban on asbestos.”

Now a consultation document has been published that outlines the proposed regulatory approach and solicits stakeholders’ views on the proposed measures.  The document asks for comments within 45 days of its publication. Following that, proposed regulations will be published by December 2017 and final regulations in the fall of 2018.

The proposed regulations would target asbestos, defined as any fibrous form of mineral silicates belonging to the serpentine or amphibole groups of rock-forming minerals including actinolite asbestos; amosite; anthophyllite asbestos; chrysotile; crocidolite; and tremolite asbestos. New stand-alone regulations under section 93 CEPA would prohibit the import, use, sale and offer for sale of asbestos, as well as the manufacture, use, sale, offer for sale and import of products containing asbestos. The export of all types of asbestos and products containing asbestos would also be prohibited.

The consultation document can be viewed on Environment and Climate Change Canada’s website.


R.E.A.C.H-ing for Higher Standards in Global Chemical Management

Matias LöyttyniemiThe challenges of defining and managing chemicals in today’s interconnected global environment are more difficult than ever before. Despite the publication of the TSCA (Toxic Chemical Substances Act) regulation in the United States, the recent political changes are casting doubt on how or what will be changed, despite the pressing need for change.

Regardless of what is happening in the US concerning chemical regulations, the European Commission (EC) has been intent on removing and reducing toxic substances from industrial products that are manufactured in and imported into Europe. To this end, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) was formed to draft and manage a new regulation for monitoring this process: REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals).

REACH establishes procedures for collecting and assessing information on chemical substance hazards and risks

It requires companies to register the substances they manufacture in, or import into, Europe above one tonne a year. The goal is to gather information on chemicals within the European Union (EU) in order to manage chemical risks in a meaningful way, as well as to promote the gradual substitution of the most toxic substances.

What makes the regulation different from most is that REACH is not a voluntary standard. It places the burden of proof on industry to demonstrate that a substance is safe.

Rather than acting as a watchdog and demonstrating that a substance is unsafe, ECHA is evaluating the chemical data that the manufacturer provides. As a result, there is now a much better understanding of chemical substances, with the most dangerous substances being replaced with safer alternatives.

One of the greatest hurdles REACH is addressing is the cost to comply. It is not only expensive to reconfigure a product or substitute a less toxic substance, it is also expensive and time-consuming to provide the information to REACH. Historically, businesses have been more focused on profits than product safety so any additional cost that impacts their bottom line is met with resistance.

The REACH regulation and the challenges and issues surrounding chemicals management will be addressed at the upcoming Helsinki Chemicals Forum (HCF), the leading international discussion forum for chemicals safety and sound chemicals management.

HCF not only provides a forum to examine the REACH standard within Europe, but also how it fits within the global community of new standards that many countries are implementing to better manage chemical safety and reduce exposure to toxic substances.

HCF 2017 will be held from 8-9 June, 2017 at the Messukeskus Helsinki Convention Centre in Helsinki, Finland. The two-day event addresses opportunities and challenges for chemicals regulation, with panels covering the United Nation’s 2020 goals on chemicals management, sustainable development, chemical assessments, chemical risk and much more. An international collection of speakers from regulatory bodies, industry associations and NGOs will provide insights, with speakers from ECHA, the US EPA, Environment Canada, CEFIC, OECD and many more.

For more information about HCF, visit

What Can be Gained by Eliminating the Chemical Safety Board?

Removing Independent Agencies Not the Way to Balance the Federal Budget


Would you want to live near a chemical plant that ignores chemical safety? That’s like living next to an accident that is waiting to happen, an accident that might seriously impact you. And even when you live or work in areas remote from such facilities, you could still be affected since chemicals can travel by air, by water, and be retained by soil. The 2014 Elk River chemical spill in which a damaged storage tank spilled crude 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol (MCHM) upstream of the principal West Virginia American Water intake and treatment center is a case in point.

The Chemical Safety Board (CSB) exists to ensure chemical management safety. It is an independent federal agency that investigates serious chemical accidents to search for their causes and make recommendations to prevent a recurrence. Unlike the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the CSB does not perform enforcement, does not issue citations or fines but makes safety recommendations based upon their findings. What it does provide is a very necessary layer of assessment and accountability that no other agency performs. It is a watchdog with a focus on chemical plant safety, an eye on industry to ensure adherence to sane and sensible chemical management, which should but doesn’t always happen.

The results of their investigations are published, enabling the public to see what went wrong and why. If negligence is part of those results, everyone will know and financial repercussions may result. Certainly negligence can take many forms, from passive neglect (such as lack of safety training) to deliberate actions (such as inappropriate storage containers).

The CSB’s reviews of major accidents have proved significant. Its findings have led to industry standards on worker fatigue and greater reporting of hazardous chemicals to first responders.

Despite all the EPA and OSHA regulations, it is amazingly easy for industry to disregard safety and the impact of that disregard on workers and the community. There just aren’t enough enforcers to go around and double-check for compliance. Yes, reports are required and risk management plans should be in place, but it’s difficult to isolate noncompliance and time-consuming to evaluate what needs to change.

Unfortunately, the new EPA Administrator Scott Pruittt has delayed regulations that were made in response to the 2013 explosion of the fertilizer storage plant in West, Texas. These regulations better define the Risk Management Plan that all such organizations should have in place and are just common sense. In essence, the regulations, which were based on the CSB’s recommendations, were devised to set standards for how companies that own chemical plants, like West Fertilizer, make information available to their surrounding communities so that residents and first responders can prepare for accidents like the explosion.

Does operating the CSB cost money? Of course, but not a lot. It’s not a big money drain on the Federal budget, only receiving some $12 million annually and employing 50 people. If it is eliminated, and the States are expected to perform investigations, that $12 million equals less than $230,000 per State – a ludicrously low sum that would accomplish nothing. Looked at another way, that $12 million is far less than the clean-up cost for a single major accident. Certainly it should be worth it to understand and help prevent chemical catastrophes. Certainly it should be worth it to ensure that the Federal government is not called upon to provide financial disaster relief as it has done time after time, accident after accident.

And yet President Trump wants to eliminate the CSB. Go figure.