Stop. Now think for a moment how you would define the environment.
Have you thought about the outside world? Nature? Air, water and soil? Perhaps you have thought about climate change?
What you probably haven’t thought about is the work environment. But professional environments – and the people who work in them – also require protections. These protections are linked to federal legislation under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA).
With the official September 20 federal election approaching, people living in Canada are worried about many issues, and the environment, climate and health care are among their top concerns.
On August 11, Environment and Climate Change Minister Jonathan Wilkinson announced that the federal government had developed an action plan to protect firefighters from harmful chemicals released during home fires. As part of this plan, the government is banning chemical flame retardants that have been shown to be harmful to human health or the environment, by decreasing the use of chemical flame retardants while encouraging the use of alternatives, and conducting research and monitoring to assess exposure levels.
The government says that “the initiative is aimed at reducing the risks posed by chemicals to Canadians and their environment.” Current science on occupational exposures influences this health protection movement. Flame retardants are known disruptors of the hormonal system, leading to dysfunction of the thyroid gland, reproductive dysfunctions, and a compromised immune system.
In some cases, occupational environmental exposures and health risks are significantly higher than those in general environments. Firefighters face a multiplicity of hazards in their work, with chemical exposures among them. Recent changes to Ontario’s compensation law, for example, are based on the assumption that firefighter cancers are work-related.
But CEPA – the cornerstone of Canadian environmental protection law – has not been updated since 1999, and modern exhibits, including those in some workplaces, are insufficiently taken into account. account in the legislation in its current form. To capture the exposures faced by workers and others made vulnerable by various factors, such as age, sex, racialization, gender, socio-economic factors, geographic location, exposure to products etc., CEPA must be amended to take into account the full scope of environmental threats.
While the federal government’s plan to protect firefighters as part of its work to strengthen CEPA is welcome, health protection is a right that everyone should be guaranteed. The election is a critical opportunity to secure commitments to prioritize the passage of stronger CEPA legislation.
At the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE), we value the interdependence of the health of people living in Canada with their social and physical environment. Guided by scientific evidence, we see how patients’ lives are intertwined with the environments in which they live and work.
The election is a crucial opportunity to secure commitments to prioritize the passage of strengthened #CEPA legislation, write Atanu Sarkar and @ JANEMCARTHUR11 of @CAPE_ACME. # elxn44 # BillC28 #cdnpoli
We need the election candidates and the next government to act in concert on these connections. Strong environmental health protections, including CEPA reform, must be part of it.
When Bill C-28, Strengthening Environmental Protection for a Healthier Canada, a bill to reform obsolete CEPA was introduced on April 13, the health and environment, including CAPE, welcomed its introduction. There was optimism that the long-awaited CEPA reform was finally underway.
But Bill C-28 was not on the agenda of debate last week when the House was sitting before the summer recess, and now, with the federal election, we risk losing progress and momentum for CEPA modernization.
An improved CEPA would recognize the absolute right to a healthy environment with a “balancing” of economic factors, incorporate the principles of environmental justice, prioritize the prohibition of toxic substances of concern, and assess actual exposures to the substances, while recognizing the consequences. structural determinants of health, including occupational exposures.
People living in Canada – including the firefighters Minister Wilkinson and the government are working to better protect – deserve a commitment to strengthen CEPA through the swift reintroduction of and support for an improved Bill C-28. as a legislative priority. All candidates and all parties should make this pledge.
As we go to the polls to mark our ballots, adding our voice to the issues we want to address in the governance of the future, we should all seek to elect candidates who recognize that the laws that govern this country must be in tune with science and also with the everyday experiences and exposures people face.
The planet and those of us who live on it cannot tolerate any further delay in properly managing the health and toxics in our environments. CEPA reform is needed now. Our health depends on it.
Atanu Sarkar is Associate Professor of Environmental and Occupational Health in the Faculty of Medicine at Memorial University in Newfoundland. He is a member of CAPE’s Newfoundland and Labrador Regional Committee.
Jane E. McArthur is CAPE’s Toxics Campaign Director. She holds a PhD in Sociology and Social Justice, and her work over the past 30 years has focused on communications, research and advocacy on environmental and occupational health issues.