Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment – Opaskwayak, Cree Nation

NEWS RELEASE – Safe Water: Top priority for Environment Ministers

The Pas, Manitoba - The Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) wrapped up a two-day meeting by reaffirming its commitment to clean, safe and secure water for all Canadians and agreeing that each jurisdiction must continue to maintain and improve high standards for water quality to protect the health and safety of all citizens.

"As Environment Ministers we are taking comprehensive action to protect the quality of our drinking water from the source to the tap," said CCME President Oscar Lathlin, Manitoba Minister of Conservation. "This includes ensuring the safety of water coming from the tap by protecting lakes, rivers and underground water sources, as well as appropriate treatment, monitoring and operation of systems," he said.

Ministers emphasized the importance of strong drinking water standards based on the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality developed collaboratively by Health and Environment Ministries.

To further work in this area, Ministers initiated a series of collaborative actions to complement their individual initiatives:

  • reviewing existing guidelines and accelerating the development of additional water quality guidelines;
  • setting research priorities for addressing water quality issues such as disturbances to groundwater, land use impacts that have a potential adverse impact on our watersheds, and recycling and re-use; and
  • providing information to Canadians through the CCME web-site, which will include a water quality index and links to water quality information from all jurisdictions.

Ministers recognized the need to promote strategic cooperation between Environment and Health Ministries to address concerns such as the special vulnerability of children to environmental contaminants.

They also expressed support for the inter-jurisdictional implementation priorities under the Canadian Biodiversity Strategy, adopted by federal, provincial and territorial resource ministers earlier this month in Toronto. Ministers also welcomed the action plan approved by Agriculture ministers in June. The Plan includes accelerated environmental action in the areas of water, air and soil quality as well as biodiversity. "These developments point to the need for increasing collaborative action by the CCME and other ministerial councils," said Minister Lathlin.

Since 1998, nine Canada wide standards (CWS) have been adopted for substances that pose a threat to the environment and human health, including particulate matter and ozone. Ministers continued their steady progress on improving water and air quality by endorsing two more CWSs today and setting their sights on further action on dioxins and furans.

Phase 2 of the Benzene CWS sets a target for additional reductions in benzene emissions from gasoline, natural gas dehydrators and the steel industry by 2010. Emissions of the cancer-causing substance will be reduced by a further 10 percent in addition to the 30 percent reduction established in the Phase 1 CWS endorsed by Ministers in June 2000.

The CWS on Mercury for Dental Amalgam Waste calls for the installation and proper maintenance of approved state-of-the-art equipment capable of removing 95% or more of the amalgam waste generated at dental clinics. The standards protect eco-systems by requiring dental offices to capture and more effectively manage their dental amalgam waste so that it does not enter sewer systems.

As part of their ongoing work to significantly reduce emissions of dioxins and furans to the environment, Ministers received proposed Canada-wide standards for dioxins and furan emissions from iron sintering plants and electric arc furnaces in steel manufacturing. They agreed that the iron sintering CWS will come forward for signature at their spring 2002 meeting. Ministers also agreed to bring the proposed CWS for electric arc furnaces forward for decision and signature at their fall 2002 meeting. In the interim, jurisdictions committed to work with the steel industry to complete the further data collection, research on dioxin and furans formation and examination of technology options and costs required to support a multi-stakeholder review of the standard in 2003. Dioxins and furans are persistent organic pollutants that have been singled out for global action under the United Nations Stockholm Convention signed by over 100 countries in May 2001.

Although Quebec did not sign the agreement that led to these standards, it shall remain committed to act within its area of jurisdiction in a manner consistent with the standards.

Ministers also discussed several issues with an international dimension.
Minister Anderson updated his colleagues on the Earth Summit 2002, and committed to engage provinces and territories in Canada's preparations for the Summit.

Ministers recognized the need for a concerted and collaborative effort by all governments to consult with stakeholders on effective action on climate change. The consultations must consider Canada's actions within the context of the Kyoto Protocol, the Bonn agreement and U.S.A. positions on climate change. Quebec will hold its own consultations on conditions under which ratification will occur

Ministers praised the New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers for their agreement in August to significantly reduce regional greenhouse gas emissions. Ministers also noted with satisfaction the release of the Manitoba Climate Change Task Force report, Manitoba and Climate Change, and congratulated Minister Lathlin for the initiative. Environment Ministers will continue their discussions on Canada's efforts to address climate change with Energy Ministers on September 24.

Ministers are pleased to note that imports of hazardous waste into Canada decreased in 2000. Despite progress made over the last year, management of hazardous waste remains a critical issue for Canada. Ministers agreed to continue to improve waste management practices across Canada and to develop an environmentally sound management regime for hazardous waste that is acceptable to all jurisdictions.

Ministers discussed the cosmetic use of pesticides, particularly as it relates to children's health and groundwater contamination. CCME believes that an acceleration of the re-evaluation program for existing pesticides, along with initiatives to encourage the use of bio-pesticides and improve pesticide labels would contribute to the goals of environmental protection and sustainable development in pest management.

At the conclusion of the meeting, CCME Oscar Lathlin, Minister of Conservation for Manitoba, presented the gavel to Fisheries, Aquaculture and Environment Minister Chester Gillan of Prince Edward Island, who will chair the CCME during 2001-2002.

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