St. John’s resident Judy Gibson was shocked when the sunglasses she ordered from California came with a label saying they contained chemicals that are known to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm.
The sunglasses purchased by Gibson were Bell + Howell brand Tac glasses, and she had purchased several pairs to give to her friends.
After reading the label, she would never give them to anyone, she said. Instead, Gibson is using the glasses as a “teaching tool.”
While she was initially furious, Gibson did a Google search and learned the warning label is the result of California’s Proposition 65 — a state law enacted in 1986 that mandates companies to put labels on any products containing chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm. It’s intended to help Californians make informed decisions about protecting themselves.
With an increase in online shopping, people all over the world are now seeing these labels on products they buy, and are asking questions about why such legislation doesn’t exist in their own jurisdictions.
It’s the kind of legislation that many consumer-protection advocates, scientists, doctors and environmentalists want to see in this country.
Muhannad Malas is one of those people. He is the toxics program manager with Environmental Defence.
“The consumer who bought the sunglasses is, to me, an example of the importance of having stronger labelling laws for products,” said Malas. “When consumers know, or find out, that there’s something in their product that might be putting their health at risk, then they’re going to ask questions, and that’s really what the California Prop 65 is all about.
“In Canada, we currently don’t have for consumer products a labelling law that requires the disclosure of all chemical ingredients that go into that product, and I think many Canadians would find it shocking that even products that we buy that list the ingredients are often not required to fully disclose those ingredients.”
Health Canada spokesman Gary Holub said in an emailed statement to The Telegram that, in Canada, industry has an obligation to identify any existing or potential hazards in a product.
“Consumer products sold in Canada are subject to stringent health and safety requirements,” Holub stated. “The Canada Consumer Product Safety Act includes a general prohibition on the manufacture, importation, advertisement or sale of any consumer product that poses an unreasonable danger to human health or safety.
“This means that industry has an obligation to identify existing or potential hazards in the consumer chemical products they market and properly mitigate them.”
But Malas said the Consumer Product Safety Act doesn’t go far enough to protect people. He also says other legislation related to toxic material in consumer products, such as the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA), needs to be updated.
After a 16-month process of listening to various experts, a Commons committee listed 87 recommendations to overhaul and update CEPA last June. One of the recommendations specifically states that there should be mandatory labelling of toxic substances in consumer products, including chemicals suspected of causing adverse health effects.
Last month, 540 scientists and doctors across the country signed a petition urging Environment Minister Catherine McKenna to follow through with those recommendations.
“These are the kinds of changes that we need to ensure our law is up-to-date and is on par with what California has in place, and with what the EU has in place,” said Malas. “It is one of the most urgent issues today because of the impact that toxics have on health outcomes of people and also on the environment.”
McKenna has committed to exploring those recommendations and will provide a detailed response about the government’s plans this June.
“What we want to see is an actual bill,” said Malas. “We are now 19 years behind when it comes to how to address toxics because our law is severely outdated, and to wait another year or two until we can fix the law is really not something that we can afford. So, we want to see quick action by introducing a bill to amend the law in June.”
Meanwhile, Gibson called any such legislative action “enormously important.”
She said she is extra cautious about products she uses these days because she recently had surgery to remove basal cell carcinoma growths from her face. So, she will not wear the sunglasses, but she will continue to use them as a “teaching tool,” to encourage others to make educated purchases.