Environment, Story

January 1, 2018

Program Partner: Environmental Defence

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In 2011 Catherine Donnelly Foundation (CDF) entered a five-year partnership with Environmental Defence (ED) to Redefine Canadian Policy on Health, Toxins, and the Environment through a $1 million grant. In 2016, the CDF provided an additional $30,000 in bridge funding, allowing ED to continue their participation in the Canadian Environmental Protection Act review process and to secure collaborative funding that will ensure their ability to continue their toxins work through 2017. Here is their report on the success of the program from 2011-2016.  

Environmental Defence Report: Redefining Canadian Policy on Health, Toxins, and the Environment

In 2011 Environmental Defence Canada and the Catherine Donnelly Foundation entered a five-year partnership to Redefine Canadian Policy on Health, Toxins and the Environment. This work has resulted in an unprecedented success in reducing the use of toxics in Canada, including government and industry action remove harmful ingredients from consumer products, and more informed consumers equipped with the knowledge to choose safe options when they shop.

Over the last 5 years, we achieved the following milestones with the support of the Catherine Donnelly Foundation and our program partners:

Working with businesses and communities

We have worked with many businesses and passionate individuals striving to make everyday products safer for all Canadians. In 2010, we kicked off our Just Beautiful campaign to educate Canadians about toxic chemicals in cosmetics and in 2012 we created the Just Beautiful Pledge to recognize manufacturers who make safer personal care products, like shampoo, soap, toothpaste, and body wash. We also wanted to give Canadians the knowledge and tools needed to reduce their exposure to toxic chemicals at home and to take collective action to eliminate the use of toxics in products. To do this, we partnered with Breast Cancer Action Montreal (now Breast Cancer Action Quebec) to offer Chemical Detective workshops across Canada. Since 2014, workshops have been held in communities from Halifax to Vancouver.

Groundbreaking research

We published 8 research reports covering topics from chemicals of concern to personal care and cleaning products. The following highlights some of this work.

In 2013, we published Pre-Polluted: A report on toxic substances in the umbilical cord blood of Canadian newborns. Based on tests on the umbilical cord blood of three anonymous newborns in the Greater Toronto Area and Hamilton, we found PBDEs (flame retardants), PCBs (a banned group of chemicals), PFCs (found in non-stick coatings in cookware), Organochlorine pesticides, dioxins and furans, mercury and lead which are chemicals that are known to be pervasive in the environment and are linked to serious health problems. Out of the 310 chemicals tested for, a total of 137 were found in the three babies. Alongside these alarming results our report provided practical recommendations for the government and industry to help protect the health of Canadians for generations to come.

Two years later we worked to find viable replacements for the widely used dry cleaning chemical, PERC (short for perchloroethylene or tetrachloroethylene). PERC pollutes the environment and harms human health; it is linked to lymphoma and is toxic to the nervous system. In 2007, Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health recommended federal action to phase out this carcinogenic chemical, but Environment and Climate Change Canada has yet to act to ban PERC. In November 2015, Environmental Defence issued Removing the Stain, a report outlining U.S. success stories and best practices for phasing out PERC. Together, with the Toronto Environmental Alliance (TEA) we have also created a dry cleaning wallet card to help consumers identify environmentally-friendly options. In May 2016, Toronto’s Board of Health adopted our recommendations to promote professional wet cleaning as an effective and environmentally friendly alternative to dry cleaning with harmful chemicals and to explore a program to improve public disclosure of chemicals used.

Creating policy change

In 2012, Environment Canada declared triclosan toxic, after Environmental Defence worked to raise awareness about the harmful effects of this chemical. More recently, the federal government’s Cosmetic Ingredient Hotlist added new restrictions on formaldehyde in certain cosmetics. Limits on heavy metals in cosmetics have also been finalized by Health Canada. Also, thanks to the work of concerned consumers and organizations, Loblaws, one of Canada’s largest retailers, announced that they are phasing out phthalates, triclosan, and microbeads from store brand products.

A recent trend in personal care products involves the addition of microbeads (tiny pieces of plastic) to personal care products like toothpaste and face and body wash. New research has shown that these tiny beads create a big problem for our waterways and wildlife and may contain and absorb toxic substances, such as phthalates and bisphenol-A (BPA), which are subsequently consumed by fish and birds. A dangerous and unnecessary product should not be in the market place and that’s why we demanded government action. Momentum grew quickly with considerable media attention and more than 16,000 people asking government to ban them! After initial moves by the Ontario government and a unanimous vote in the House of Commons, the federal government moved towards a ban through its Chemical Management Plan. And, this June they officially added microbeads to the Schedule 1 list of toxic substances under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA), enabling the government to regulate the substance. The government can now move to ban microbeads and we continue to encourage them to do so as quickly as possible.

Thank you

We want to say thank you to the Catherine Donnelly Foundation, whose multi-year support has allowed us to make huge strides in protecting Canadians from toxics and creating the momentum for future success.

For more information visit environmentaldefence.ca