Toxic chemicals and our flawed regulatory system

Two recent reports from the Globe below point to the failures of our regulatory system. The first is on bisphenol A, an endocrine disrupter, and the second on trans fats. The challenge is a regulatory approach that insists on bullet-proof evidence of harm – which can take decades to accumulate – before action is taken to remove a chemical from the environment. That is, chemicals are innocent until proven guilty.

Environmentalists have long pushed for a precautionary approach that would eliminate suspected hazards in the absence of full “proof”, shifting the onus onto the producer to prove the chemical is safe rather than the other way around (the current “risk management” paradigm).

‘Inherently toxic’ chemical faces its future

From Saturday’s Globe and Mail

Bisphenol A is ingested by practically everyone in Canada who eats canned foods or drinks from a can or hard plastic water bottles.

Now a controversy is raging over the safety of widespread public exposure to the chemical, which is known to act like a synthetic female sex hormone.

At the heart of the intense debate over bisphenol A is that it challenges the main tenet of modern toxicology, the idea that the dose makes the poison, a principle credited to the 15th-century Swiss alchemist Theophrastus Paracelsus.

Under this principle, a two-pack-a-day smoker is more at risk of cancer than a one-pack-a-day user, and the belief that rising doses make a substance more dangerous is the basis of all government regulations that seek to set safe exposures for harmful chemicals.
Rid foods of ‘toxic’ trans fats, group tells Ottawa

Heart foundation scolds government for lacking a national strategy to phase out artery-clogging substance


The federal government’s failure to regulate levels of trans fats in food means that Canadians are unnecessarily ingesting large amounts of heart-damaging “toxins” every day, a leading consumer group says.

“We want this toxin — which is what it is — removed from our food,” Sally Brown, CEO of the Heart and Stroke Foundation, said yesterday.

She said that trans fats – partly hydrogenated oils found in a range of food products, including coffee whiteners, doughnuts, microwave popcorn, pizza, and oils used to cook fries, fried chicken and other restaurant fare – have no nutritional value and they are responsible for between 3,000 and 5,000 deaths in Canada annually from cardiovascular disease.

“There is no question that trans fats kill – and our knowledge on the link between trans fats and the risk of heart disease continues to grow,” Ms. Brown said.

She rebuked Ottawa for not acting on a task force report issued last June that called for the virtual elimination of trans fatty acids from packaged, processed and restaurant foods, a demand that was repeated last week by an all-party Commons committee.

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