Chemicals in Canada
Chemicals can enter into the environment through many ways, including through the air.
Photo: Corel Corporation © Environment Canada, 1994
Chemicals are the basic building blocks of matter that are found in our air, water, food, and homes.
Some chemicals are synthetic, and are used in every day products from medicines to computers to fabrics and fuels. Other chemicals are not made deliberately but are by-products of chemical processes. Many chemicals improve the quality of our lives and most are not harmful to the environment or human health. However, some chemicals have the potential to cause harm and should only be used when the potential risks are appropriately managed.
Chemicals can enter the air, water, and soil when they are produced, used or disposed of. Their impact on the environment is determined by the amount of the chemical released, where it is released, and the type and concentration of the chemical. Some chemicals can have a harmful effect on the environment even when there is not an immediate or visible impact.
What is Canada doing to protect the environment for Canadians?
Canada’s Chemical Management Plan is protecting the environment from exposure to harmful chemicals.
Photo: Jim Moyes © Environment Canada, 2003
The primary piece of legislation used to protect the environment from harmful chemicals is the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999. The environment is also protected at the federal level through other legislation such as the Fisheries Act, which protects water and aquatic life. In total, Canada is responsible for over 25 different Acts covering environment and environmental health issues.
Canadian scientists, assess chemicals under the CEPA, 1999 to determine potential risks to human health and the environment. Regulations and other risk management tools may be put in place to reduce or prevent risks.
The Chemicals Management Plan (CMP) was launched in 2006 to further protect Canadians and their environment from exposure to harmful chemicals. The CMP uses a number of Acts (such as the CEPA, 1999, the Hazardous Products Act, the Pest Control Products Act, etc.) to identify harmful chemicals and enable early action on substances to manage them before they enter the environment and become a problem for future generations. The Chemicals Management Plan monitors sensitive species through an ecological monitoring program which serves as an "early warning" system for harmful substances in the ecosystem.
Why are children potentially more vulnerable?
- Children typically have a higher intake of air, water and food in relation to their body weight.
- Children's bodies and body systems are still developing and they may be less able to process or eliminate some chemicals.
- Exposure to certain environmental chemicals during pregnancy or early childhood may result in negative effects on children's health.
- Children spend more time in direct contact with surfaces while crawling, touching and exploring, and will often put things (toys, dirt, etc.) in their mouths, which may lead to accidental ingestion of harmful chemicals.
- Young children tend to have a less varied diet, eating larger quantities of a smaller range of foods. This unique diet may result in a greater exposure to certain chemicals if present in food.
- Exposure to environmental chemicals at a young age can potentially lead to longer-term cumulative exposures over a lifetime, which could affect health in adulthood.
- Children are largely unaware of and have minimal or little control over the hazards to which they may be exposed.
What are the health risks to children?
Proper storage of household chemicals will protect children from exposure to chemicals.
Photo: Jim Moyes © Environment Canada, 2003
The health risks associated with a specific chemical depend on the hazard (its potential to cause health effects), and the exposure level (the amount of chemical to which a person is exposed). The timing of the exposure is also very important. Specific stages of pregnancy are now recognized as critical windows of susceptibility to the effects of some chemicals. Nursing infants may also be exposed to chemicals that may be present in breast milk.
What is Canada doing to protect children's health from potential risk from chemicals?
The Chemicals Management Plan assesses chemicals used in Canada, and puts in place measures to reduce the risks that are identified. For example, in October 2008 the Government of Canada became the first in the world to conclude bisphenol A (BPA) posed a risk to human health and the environment. Canada introduced regulations to prohibit the importation, sale and advertising of baby bottles containing BPA in June 2009.
What can I do to protect children's health?
- Keep all chemical and drug products out of sight and reach of children.
- Read warnings on the labels and follow package instructions.
- Make sure that child-resistant containers are working.
- Use solvents in well-ventilated areas and never mix chemicals together as some mixtures can produce harmful gases.
- Keep household chemicals, pesticides and drug products in their original containers and store paints, varnishes and other similar products outside, away from the house and in suitable containers.
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- Chemicals are an essential part of our daily life, but can be dangerous if they are not handled in the correct way.
- Canada is responsible for over 25 different Acts covering environment and environmental health issues
- Children are more vulnerable to typically have a higher intake of air, water and food in relation to their body weight
- The Chemicals Management Plan assesses chemicals used in Canada, and puts in place measures to reduce the risks that are identified