CAPE helps take legal action against Minister McKenna over Volkswagen scandal

CAPE and Environmental Defence, with legal support from Ecojustice, are taking legal action against Federal Environment Minister McKenna, to force the federal government into investigating and punishing Volkswagen for their illegal importation and sales of emissions-cheating diesel vehicles in Canada.

In 2015, approximately 105,000 Volkswagen vehicles were sold in Canada that were capable of emitting up to 35 times the legal level of nitrogen oxides (NOx). The vehicles which did not comply with Canada’s emission standards were imported into the country with illegal software that would prevent emission testing devices from identifying the problem. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency prosecuted Volkswagen, and the company agreed to pay a $15 billion settlement. In the same period of time, Canada has failed to conclude their investigation and no punitive measures have yet been taken.

“Volkswagen has already admitted that it perpetuated fraud against the public and put human health at risk by selling emissions-cheating vehicles,” said Amir Attaran, lawyer with Ecojustice’s law clinic at the University of Ottawa. “In taking zero enforcement action and levying no fines as other countries have, the Canadian government is leaving billions of dollars on the table – money that it could use to clean the environment.”

In 2008, the Canadian Medical Association estimated that 21,000 Canadians die every year from heart and lung diseases from polluted air. The Medical Officers of Health in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) have also estimated that traffic-related air pollution is responsible for 700 premature deaths and over 2800 hospital admissions for heart and lung conditions, per year, in the GTHA alone. The pollutant that Volkswagen’s illegal diesel vehicles were emitting –  NOx – is one the major ingredients in smog.  Once in the air, NOx are transformed into ground level ozone and fine particulate matter – the two air pollutants most clearly linked to hospital admissions, premature deaths, and chronic heart and lung diseases.

“Traffic-related air pollution is a huge problem in Canada. It is responsible for thousands of deaths and hospital admissions each year,” said Kim Perrotta, executive director of CAPE. “Volkswagen exceeded the legal standards and they tried to hide it with emissions-cheating devices. The federal government has to take action to demonstrate that companies cannot get away with this type of blatant disregard for Canada’s emission standards and human health.”

The federal government needs to put Canadian health interests first, and punish companies that do not follow emissions regulations. The inefficient investigation underway with Volkswagen sets the standard that Canada’s environment and health standards do not need to be upheld. Instead, a more transparent and proactive approach needs to be taken on by the Ministry of the Environment that will protect Canadians and their health for years to come.

CEPA Review: A Chance to Reduce Human Suffering & Health Care Costs

On May 29th, the newly created Coalition for Action on Toxics held an event on Parliament Hill to draw attention to the changes needed to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) to ensure that it protects Canadians from highly toxic substances.

This new coalition—which is housed by Tides Canada, and includes EcoJustice, Environmental Defence, Équiterre, and CAPE—wants decision-makers to understand what changes are needed and how important they are.

“As a palliative care physician, I have spent too much of my career caring for people who are dying prematurely from diseases caused by toxic substances,” offered Dr. Jean Zigby, President of CAPE. “Our environmental regulations must be strengthened to prevent these avoidable deaths and diseases.”

These toxic exposures are costly to society in financial terms as well as human terms. One study published in The Lancet in 2016 estimated that toxic substances that disrupt the endocrine system alone cost the United States $340 billion per year in health care costs and lost wages (Attina et al., 2016). This figure represents 2.33% of the GDP!

CEPA, the backbone of environmental laws federally, has not been revised since 1999. The Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, which has been consulting the public on the revisions needed to CEPA since the fall of 2016, is expected to release its report in the coming weeks.

The coalition has identified a number of key priorities that must be addressed if human health and the environment are to be properly protected from toxics in the environment and in consumer products. We believe that CEPA should be revised to:

  • Reverse the burden of proof for substances for highly toxic substances so that industry must prove that they are safe to use;
  • Require assessment of alternatives and make it mandatory to substitute highly toxic substances with less hazardous substances;
  • Increase protection for populations that are particularly vulnerable to toxic substances such as children;
  • Require risk assessments that consider exposures from different sources and from different substances and products;
  • Create national air quality standards that are health protective, legally binding, and enforceable;
  • Strengthen timelines to ensure that risk management options are assessed and implemented in an expeditious manner;
  • Improve enforcement and provide the funds needed to properly enforce;
  • Extend the right to know to consumers with mandatory labelling of toxic substances;
  • Ensure that the chemicals are re-assessed in response to new scientific evidence, regulatory action in other jurisdictions, or public concerns; and
  • Improve the review and approval process for new substances to make it truly protective of human health and the environment and transparent.

This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to prevent chronic diseases in Canada, reduce health care costs, and protect the environment. Click here and let your Member of Parliament (MP) know that this is an important issue to you.

Prepared by Kim Perrotta, May 30, 2017

Reference:

Attina, Teresa M et al. “Exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals in the USA: a population-based disease burden and cost analysis.” The Lancet Disease and Endocrinology. Vol. 4. No. 12. December 2016.